Global Brigades is the largest student-funded humanitarian organization in the world. In its decade-and-a-half history, Global Brigades’ student participants have raised more than $100 million in aid, which has provided 1.5 million patients with medical and dental treatment, established 106 community banks that provided more than 12,000 loans to local businesses and communities, according to a recent press release. Global Brigades has also installed 56 water systems, bringing clean, drinkable water to more than 32,000 people.
Cassie Laibly is one of 83,000+ students who’ve participated in Global Brigades over the nonprofit’s 15-year history. As a freshman at Marquette, Laibly, a Biomedical Sciences major, was shocked by what she saw when she traveled to Panama with Global Brigades.
“Hundreds of patients lined up to see the doctors and dentists we shadowed; no running water and many locals sick from a parasite in the water they were drinking,” Laibly recalled. ”But not a single person complained. They were all so welcoming and such grateful people.”
Five months later, Laibly found herself back in that same Panamanian village. This time, her shock turned to awe. The children she previously met greeted her, not with hellos, but with big smiles and the chorus to the song Laibly had taught them about proper dental care.
“They had been brushing and were so proud to show me their smiles and what they had learned,” she said. “That’s why I got involved with Global Brigades. We don’t just give people the proverbial fish or teach them how to catch it. Global Brigades empowers communities by showing them how to make rods and build boats so they can fish long after we’ve left.”
“Most study some form of health care, engineering or business specialty area. But we’ve had participants from almost every major, from colleges of all sizes, and even high schools and middle schools,” said Dr. Shital Vora, Global Brigades CEO and Co-Founder, who helped create the nonprofit as an undergrad Physical Therapy student in 2003.
Vora and her leadership team recently made an organization-saving pivot to virtual programming in the face of COVID-19. Now, Zoom – instead of airplanes – whisks students to Latin America, West Africa, and Greece in real-time. The program – called TeleBrigades – continues to bring hope to residents of resource-limited communities, while providing students with hands-on leadership and career-building skills via virtual experiential learning.
“And the best part,” Vora said. “Students are immersed in these communities and make a true impact for people living in poverty while never leaving their laptop, classroom or dorm.”
Laibly is participating in multiple in-country Brigades, as well as a TeleBrigade, and finds both empowering. “The experiences were different, but I found both life-changing,” the future healthcare provider said. “In the TeleBrigade, we received a longer-lens view of Global Brigades’ entire holistic approach. In-country, I witnessed first-hand how a community can be empowered to action in multiple aspects of their lives by uniting with others to reach common goals.”
Since Global Brigades’ pivot to virtual learning in May 2020, 152 schools have enrolled in TeleBrigades with more than 1,700 college students participating.
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