Global Brigades fosters good health in Panama


Alexandra ScicchitanoOpinions & Features Editor

Students in the Global Brigades chapter at Southern went to Panama this past winter break to help communities by building water pipelines and treating locals in clinics.

Paul Nicholas, the president of the Global Brigades at SCSU club, said they went to the towns of El Retiro, Santa Rita Abajo, and El Limón in Panama.

According to the Global Brigades website, the organization is an international non-profit that uniquely implements a holistic model to meet a community’s health and economic goals.

“What we do as a club is, we ask all of our members what type of brigade they would like to go on,” said nursing major Martha Polanco, a junior. “We as a university, we tend to choose public health or medical. And based off of that, we look at which countries are doing those brigades around the timeframe that we will be free because we always try and go around the winter break, and then after that we say, OK, which of these countries would you like to go to? Again, we do another vote and we decide.”

Depending on which brigade Southern chooses, the cost changes, said exercise science major Jane Sherman, a sophomore, who said it cost over $1,000 for a public health trip, but for Southern’s recent trip to Panama, the cost was over $2,000.

Polanco said this trip to Panama was a hybrid brigade of water and medical and ran from Jan. 11 to Jan. 17 for the volunteers attending. In the past, Southern students traveled to Nicaragua twice, as well as Ghana.

“The first two days we arrived in Panama, we were digging trenches in a mountain in a rural area where communities didn’t have access to water, or had limited access,” said Polanco.

To get to the top of the mountain to lay down pipes, people climbed mountains with pickaxes, said Sherman.

“We dug trenches there with pickaxes and dug out the dirt with shovels [the first day],” said Sherman. “Then the second day we finished up and we filled in the trench after they laid the pipe down.”

After laying the pipes down, a giant tank would be put at the top of the mountain that would be maintained and replaced when need be, said Polanco.

“The remaining three days were us in the actual clinic and the clinic consists of intake, triage, consultation, dental, charla [and] pharmacy.”

According to Polanco, patients first went through intake at the clinic, where they provided their name, date of birth and gender. Patients then went to triage, where volunteers took their vital signs.

Patients also got a consultation with a doctor, and then opted in or out of dental care, but children under age 12 had to get a fluoride clean. Outside of the clinic, volunteers spoke to the community about good hygiene practices, a tradition known as “charla”

Lastly, the patients would go pharmacy to get their medications and a goodie bag some got feminine sanitary products, while others got condoms, but all received soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, according to Polanco.

“I like going there and doing the volunteering myself instead,” said Paul Nicholas, the president of the Global Brigades chapter on campus. “I really like talking to a lot of the people there, even though I barely know Spanish. We do have some translators, but it was nice going there and actually doing it yourself and talking with the people that you’re helping. Work[ing] with [and] out of the actual committee members too, because they are also a really big part of us.”

It is good to travel to other places because staying in one makes you unable to open your mind to the outside world, said exercise science major Greta Brunello, a sophomore who attended the Global Brigades trip to Panama.

“When you go [anywhere], you are open-minded. If you stay always in America, like I was from Italy, so I always stayed in Italy, you don’t really have an idea of the [outside world],” said Brunello, who lived in Italy her whole life until moving to the U.S. for college.

Nicholas said it is a really good opportunity to experience a different culture.

Brunello, who has already taken two trips with Global Brigades said, “every time you go somewhere, it’s a different problem, so you learn something different [every time].”

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