On Saturday, approximately 80 students representing 15 schools gathered in Taper Hall of the Humanities to participate in the Global Brigades Exchange hosted at USC. The event allowed student leaders and program participants from various campuses to convene and discuss the different programs, as well as learn about the organization and its history.
“It’s an opportunity for other brigaders to come out and share best practices, their stories and make connections so if they want to collaborate in future, or get feedback, they can do that here,” said Kevin Chuang, a junior majoring in business administration and one of the principal organizers of the event.
Global Brigades is a student-led, nonprofit organization that sends teams of students to work on development projects in Central America and West Africa, focusing on the specific academic interests of the students involved. In total, there are ten disciplines represented including medical, dental, engineering, environmental, architecture, public health and water brigades.
“We’re the largest student-led sustainable development organization, helping communities reach a point of sustainability through a number of different disciplines,” Chuang said. “We do that gradually, brigade by brigade, until they reach that point of sustainability.”
USC not only sends students on brigades, but also played a significant role in the formation of the organization itself. Steve Atamian, a USC alumnus, helped found the organization shortly after graduating in 2004. Atamian said USC was instrumental in getting the organization off the ground.
“USC was the second or third school to adopt Global Brigades, and in the first year they carried us, bringing down a group of 100 to 120 students, that gave us the funds to hire locals and keep health projects going year-round,” Atamian said. “Without that momentum it would have been really hard to get started.”
Since then, the organization has grown from 20 volunteers to 10,000 this year from across North America and Europe, according to Atamian. Global Brigades has chapters at over 250 campuses so far.
“We’re able to do complex development work just by mobilizing students,” Atamian said. “All the ideas of our organization come from the students, we just provide an infrastructure to empower them and take things to the next level.”
Students participated in collaborative activities, listened to speakers and had breakout sessions for discussion throughout the exchange, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Students from various schools said the event was helpful and productive.
“What we’re doing here is getting to know the leadership and brigaders from other schools around [Southern California], and we all have this common goal and vision as being members and leaders in [Global Brigades],” said Sahana Kribakaran, a junior at UCLA who served as the campus chair of UCLA’s Global Brigades chapter. “But we all operate and do things differently on our campus, and we know what works and doesn’t work. Today is about exchanging those ideas, and sharing this common goal.”
Kribakaran has been involved with Global Brigades since her first year when she went on a medical brigade to Honduras. Since then, she has been on two more brigades to Ghana, and has taken on a more active role in the leadership of the organization at UCLA.
“Our whole vision is students empowering communities and communities empowering students,” Kribakaran said. “It’s the central theme of empowerment that really drives the organization to do what we do, promoting quality of life through initiatives and create positive social change by using the energy of students.”
Other students gained advice and inspiration. Lacy Williams, a sophomore majoring in architectural engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said she learned valuable recruiting techniques that will be helpful in building up the chapter at her campus.
“It was great to hear tips on how to recruit people and keep them engaged,” Williams said. “Teaching people that they’re not volunteering for themselves but for the community, and they’re not fundraising for themselves, but for the community.”
Monserratee Angeles, a senior majoring in human biology at UC San Diego, said she found the stories of other brigaders the most important part of the event.
“The stories that I’ve heard, they seem really passionate about what they’re doing,” Angeles said. “They keep coming back because they want to continue to help people in these communities in other places and they really worry about sustaining people in the organization.”