Upon stepping off the plane into Tegucigalpa airport, the surreal nature of my situation hit me. I had just traveled for 7 some hours with 36 people I barely knew, into a country one month before I couldn’t place on a map, to do work I have only imagined myself doing to get me through those late-night study hours for pre-medical prerequisites. This was the beginning of my experience with Global Brigades. Despite the preliminary hesitations following a long period of layovers and flight delays, each step into this new country, Honduras, made me fall more in love with the people I worked with, helped care for, and the work we were there to perform. Six days was enough for me to make a difference in others life, as well as my own.
What is Global Brigades? It is an international organization with a chapter here on campus whose mission states they are dedicated to improving infrastructure of developing countries in a complete and lasting way. For six days students travel to Honduras to help develop different aspects of the rural communities in the area. In addition to medicine, Global Brigades leads brigades in water treatment, public health, and business in order to get a struggling community on its feet and capable of ultimately supporting itself. WashU sends a medical, dental, and public health brigade each year. I went on the medical/dental brigade, where we set up a makeshift clinic within one of the communities assigned by Global Brigades Headquarters. During those few days, community members line up waiting for the opportunity to be seen by qualified doctors, obtain medications, and have their information saved in a provisional electronic database for future treatment. Global Brigades strives to avoid the one and done attitude of service. They aim to ensure people receive the care they need not only at that moment, but continuously, and that their name and story be remembered from one brigade to the next.
As a brigader on this trip, I had the privilege of expanding my medical and dental knowledge with the help of physicians. From shadowing experience to hands-on assistance, the brigade forced me to step out of my comfort zone in communication, medical familiarity, and even language to make the impact I was determined to have during those six days. Walking between classrooms made medical specialist rooms, witness the influence healthcare can have on an individual and their family. Education too has an impact, evident in steps as simple as teaching brushing hygiene to kids, concepts that we here in the WashU bubble can take for granted. In such an intimately small medical setting, one might care for a child earlier in the day, and player soccer with them at the day’s end. Such opportunities transcend the field of medicine, providing insight on how to be a good teacher, an effective communicator, a culturally competent individual, and a positive light.
Coming in with the intention of learning more about the field of medicine, I came out with an appreciation for “good” medical care: a physician willing to take time with their patients and care for them like they would a friend. Whether through water, public health, or medical trips. Yet there are families everywhere that can use help, too; you need not travel across the country to find them. The first step toward making some difference, requires you to push comfort zones. So go ahead, whether off a plane into Tegucigalpa airport or just across town, take that first step.
Edited by: Anu Balasubramanian