One of the ways I started getting involved on campus is with a student organization on campus called Global Brigades. It’s a new chapter here at U of T, only in its second year of operation.
U of T Global Brigades (UTGB) is an international, non-profit, humanitarian organization focused on improving quality of life in all spheres in third-world communities. Each year, UTGB students prepare for a volunteer trip to a third-world rural community of their choice, on a brigade type of their choice. This year, UTGB will be taking a group of students on a medical/dental/public health brigade to Honduras, of which I will also be participating – wahoo! We will do things like shadow doctors in consultation, help with children’s fluoride treatments, work out drug prescriptions, and build eco-stoves for community use.
I chose to join UTGB because it’s similar to the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is what inspired me to want to pursue medicine in the first place. I’ve always wanted to do something like this so I figured: why not now? I like that it’s an organization whose main goal is holistic and sustainable development. Volunteers embarking on brigades have programs that encompass more than just medical/dental. They can also choose to do environmental, architecture, human rights, and more. GB makes sure to promote progress in the community we serve by keeping detailed records of what we do. The next year, we and other chapters use this data to track trends such as most prevalent diseases or most pressing needs. Based on what we find, we can follow-up with the same community and tailor our brigade to improve upon the problems we found.
Education and empowerment of the community are also key. The brigades always involve education sessions and ways for the community to become self-sufficient and independently functioning. I also appreciate that there is an emphasis on how Global Brigades is not a form of “voluntourism,” and that our focus is truly on interacting with and helping a community improve quality of life.
During the year, UTGB members can sign up for sub-committees like Donations, Fundraising, etc. These members have responsibilities like finding sponsors/donors or thinking of creative ways to fundraise or promote our cause. I was a part of the Donations sub-committee and tried to email/contact as many companies as I could to help fund or donate supplies to our trip. It was fun making goodies for our bake sales, thus initiating my first foray into the art of making candy apples – which I promise were really delicious! We also don’t just focus on that one big trip – we also get a chance to help out locally by volunteering for shelters around the city.
To prep for our summer trip, I’ve gotten the chance to attend Spanish lessons (¿Cómo estás?) as well as attend education sessions where we learn more about the culture and customs of the community we’ll be serving. We’ve also had sessions on how to take patient vitals and other important skills that will be required for the trip.
We’re leaving for Honduras at the end of August so this blogger is going to be MIA until the start of the school year. I’m super excited and can’t wait to get there. I know I’m going to learn so much and will be back with lots of stories for you all!! (keener alert)
If you’re interested in joining a student group focused on humanitarian support or global interests, Ulife has a comprehensive list of all our recognized campus groups.
Have you gone on any volunteer trips? What was your experience like? Share with us in the comments or let us know on Twitter at @lifeatuoft!