Among the many qualities that have added to UC Riverside’s high esteem as a public institution, the most striking is its commitment to contributing to the public good. The number of service-based student organizations alone is a testament to such a commitment. While holding lifestyle workshops at Olive Crest Orphanage and working at local soup kitchens, however, the UC Riverside Global Brigades (UCR GB) chapter
goes above and beyond local boundaries, sending students to impoverished countries in need of health-related services and basic amenities.
Since 2004, the largest student-led, non-profit organization has developed from the collective efforts of various universities, both private and public, across the globe in
building healthy families and empowering communities through sustainable projects. Students can choose from nine brigades that cater to a variety of interests from architecture to micro finance. They also have the option to work in Panama, Honduras, or more recently, Ghana.
In 2009, the Global Medical Brigades (GMB) at UC Riverside sent its first group of students to Pajarillos, Honduras, where they built mobile clinics in two rural communities, provided public health workshops to locals, and constructed stoves, house floors, and pilas, or mud brick containers which store clean water from a nearby river. As a result, rural villagers no longer have to worry about developing respiratory problems from the smoke in their homes or foot infections due to the absence of concrete floors. In addition, with two physicians, the group of eight volunteers served 611 patients within a five day trip.
Four years later, the UCR GB has expanded to include Public Health, Dental and Water Brigades in addition to its long-standing Medical Brigade, continuing to provide basic healthcare and essentials to different communities in Honduras. From only eight members, the robust GMB has now grown to over 50 members, new and veteran alike.
Among its veterans, third-year political science major Michael Clemons, has not only returned each year as a member, but has grown more involved as a leader. As the current president of GMB, he reveals, “after volunteering with GMB last year in Honduras, I formed so many deep connections with patients that have stayed with me. Seeing the joy in their faces just by helping take care of them motivates me to raise as much money possible and to work even harder every year so that I can continue serving those in need.”
Last year, UC Riverside became one of 25 universities in the United States to receive an invitation from the global organization to begin developing programs in Ghana. Orion Hass, the co-founder and chief executive director of GB Ghana has categorized UCR GB as one of the strongest chapters in the world among UCLA, Harvard, Columbia, USC, Oxford and the London School of Economics. “Students at UCR have consistently shown their passion, dedication and commitment as an organization and we’re very happy to welcome them as one of the first Global Brigades groups in the United States to travel to Ghana,” Haas says.
Since their acceptance, UCR GB has been preparing for its impending trips this summer to Ghana and Panama, seeking to raise thousands of dollars for medication and the in-country fees. The four brigades will be implementing a similar structure in their respective programs in Panama as they did in Honduras. During their eight-day trip, students work closely with physicians in a mobile clinic, speaking to patients about their history, shadowing basic check-up procedures in triage, and filling prescriptions in the pharmacy. Meanwhile, the Dental Brigade shadows licensed dentists during cleanings, extractions, and fillings and sort medicine based on the needs that are endemic to the community. Together, both brigades collaborate in leading workshops that promote daily health practices.
In Ghana however, the Medical and Dental Brigades will join a select few universities on a 10 day trip building on its rapid development of sustainability projects and health care services over the past year. Students expect to tackle the endemic problems in Ghana that are distinct from Central America, specifically malaria and difficulty in obtaining clean drinking water. To help alleviate such challenges, students aim to bring mosquito nets and water filters and instruct patients on how to use the latter.
The organization’s expansion to Ghana does not call for focus away from the sustainable projects that students have already established in Honduras, however. Instead, UCR GB Chairman Ariel Reyes explains, “We are asked to offer UC Riverside students more service opportunities in the three countries rather than abandoning one or the other.” She continues, “In this way, we aim to balance the delicate shift to Ghana.”
With five months left to prepare for their upcoming trips, all four brigades at UC Riverside continue to raise money while engaging members in different social events. The members of GMB, for example, actively participate in community service at a local orphanage in Riverside, teaching young adults basic lifestyle skills that will serve them well later on in their adult lives. In turn, the club allows its members to solidify their unity, connectedness and communication as a unit prior to working on the field together. Indeed, such values are those on which our institution is firmly rooted. With their continued commitment to growth and service both locally and beyond, GB has certainly proven itself as a leading example.
For more information on the individual brigades, feel free to attend the first information session of the quarter in HMNSS 1503 on Wednesday, January 25 at 8:00 p.m., or go to ucrgb.org.