4.15.2009

Day 682 - Volunteer Service - Global Brigades in Panama

Through a series of unplanned encounters we were introduced to Global Brigades. Global Brigades (GB) is a young organization with a unique operation model and huge scope. Their method is to enlist interested university students to start a Global Brigade Club on their campus. That club is matched with a community project in Central America. The club selects a group of 15 - 20 students to go on implementation trips. Funds are raised or paid by the students to cover the in-country logistics. One-hundred dollars of each student's fee is put in their project's capitol investment fund. Every club is connected to a project and will return to the same community two or three times a year, bringing a different set of students and more capitol to invest. In addition to the cash the students aid the projects with knowledge from their fields of study or specific information researched between visits. Currently running projects include, a bee keepers group, a cobbler, and furniture co-op.
The GB model proves to be remarkably flexible. It started with medical brigades in Honduras and quickly evolved to encompass business, architecture, law and water brigades. That is the key to achieving GB's goal of becoming the largest student run organization in the world. Want to apply classroom knowledge and skills for community development? Start a club and get like-minded peers to join. In as little as a semester, a club can be on the ground to address a pressing problem. The community gets help and the students get real experience to add to their resumes.
Forming a partnership between Global Brigades and Peace Corps Panama is one of the most potent accomplishments Foy and I will make in Panama. From either side the arrangement has substantial benefits. A weakness in the GB formula is the lack of contact between the club and the project members in the long stretches of time between visits. With any service-vacation or developmental-tourism it is critical to avoid becoming just another handout. Peace Corps volunteers on the other hand, often have trouble finding the minimal funding necessary for projects. Together, GB and Peace Corps have funding and steady contact with their project. Also, there is the invaluable mix of trust gained during two years of service in a community, coupled with the excitement that young people fresh from foreign lands inspire like a cloud in their wake. The cultural exchange going both ways is enough alone to make it a positive experience for the Brigades Club, Peace Corps and the community

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