Despite The Pandemic, Global Brigades Is Still Connecting Students To Communities Around The World

Feb 8, 2021

The goal of the non-profit Global Brigade is to put high school and college students to work eradicating poverty around the world.

Among more than 500 university and high school groups participating, there are chapters at UW-Milwaukee, Marquette, UW-Madison and MSOE. But now, instead of flying to countries like Ghana, Nicaragua and Panama, students are “traveling” there virtually — through “TeleBrigades” and “Telesquads.”

Shital Vora is the co-founder and CEO of Global Brigades. In 2003, Vora was completing her degree to become a physical therapist focused on orthopedics and sports medicine at Marquette University. Her program was rigorous and prevented her from studying abroad for an extended period of time.

After hearing a friend was going to Honduras for a week-long volunteering trip, she ended up recruiting about 20 other Marquette students to go as well, and in doing so, Vora created the first Global Brigades club. 

“We thought we’d just be lugging medicine and we thought we would just be translating, some of us that spoke Spanish, but what we didn’t know was that we were able to, as undergrads, as aspiring young professionals, that we were able to make impact,” she says.

Global Brigades has expanded past providing medical help and now offers programs to build better public health systems, bring clean water, grow businesses and provide legal help. This is part of what Vora calls their “holistic model.”

“We’re not just simply going into a community and providing one week of free doctor’s visits or building a school. What we’re doing is that we’re making long-term commitments [to] these resource-limited communities around the world and we’re empowering them with sustainable solutions,” she explains.  

Shital Vora, Global Brigades CEO & co-Founder, speaks to a student volunteer in Nicaragua.
Credit Jesse Lee

When the pandemic struck, Global Brigades halted their trips but continued connecting people through online conversations.

“Now Zoom, instead of formally airplanes, are whisking these high school and the university students from their home desks out to Latin America, to West Africa and to Greece in real time,” she says.

Through these virtual trips, Vora says they have been able to make connections like bringing engineering students together with communities that are trying to build better water infrastructure and business students with newly created community banks.

Global Brigades is preparing students for in-person trips in 2021 and hopes to begin them at the end of April.