/NJIT Global Brigades Makes its First Medical Mission to Panama

NJIT Global Brigades Makes its First Medical Mission to Panama

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Amy Ng

Retired Staff

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By Amy Ng, Staff writer

Global Brigades is not your average Z club. You have probably seen them tabling in the Campus Center, handing out fliers for their Chipotle or Panera fundraisers, or sharing their donation links on social media, but did you know that its members were able to raise $62,969.79 this year to send 36 NJIT students to Panama on a medical mission?

Founded nearly a year ago in March 2015 by current President and Senior biology major, Hirva Vyas, the NJIT chapter of the internationally recognized organization, Global Brigades, aims to send volunteers abroad to address global health issues and holistic development in underserved nations. This involves assisting local and foreign health professionals as they provide pro-bono consultations and medications to patients in rural communities, and teaching health education to both local adults and children.

Guided by these ideals, the club promptly garnered the attention of dozens of budding humanitarians on campus, and began to initiate relentless fundraising efforts throughout the Fall semester.

“Huge challenges that the NJIT Global Brigades faced before leaving for our mission definitely included procuring all of the medications necessary to run a free clinic, and fundraising at such a large scale,” President Vyas recounts. The group’s success in reaching their target fundraising goal proved to be well worth the effort, when at last, the Republic of Panama welcomed the NJIT Global Brigades on March 12th, 2016 with both its lush tropical jungle and urban sprawl.

At the lodging facilities in San Carlos, Panamanian native and brigade coordinator, Charles Bernard primed the group during their first training session about the country’s extremely unequal wealth distribution and large populations in poverty. In remote communities, natives live on roughly $4USD a day, and are beyond the coverage of basic health, water, and educational services. They have little to no means of travelling to the city to seek medical attention, and resort to coping with their various ailments in unsanitary conditions.

These realities were held to be truths in communities such as Las Lajas, where the brigaders set up their mobile clinic at an elementary school. Members of the community lined up at the clinic’s doors at exactly 8:00AM in the morning, some having walked miles in the 90-degree heat to reach. Months of preparation culminated in the success of the NJIT Global Brigade clinic, as patients were quickly registered to receive their free medical consultation, dental treatments, health lesson, and pharmaceuticals.

During the three days of running the clinic, the group succeeded in providing healthcare to nearly 400 members of the Las Lajas community. The patients, who expressed their appreciation and gratefulness, left with wide smiles and plans to visit the clinic again in six months, when another university’s medical brigade would take over.

The remainder of the days spent in Panama was put towards public health initiatives in the Las Delicias community. Here, NJIT brigaders empower the more rural communities to prevent common illnesses through the construction of personal latrines. These projects involved displacing soil for the latrine’s foundation, laying cinderblocks, mixing cement, and creating doors. In thanks to NJIT’s labor, multiple families treated the group to festive dishes typically made exclusively for special occasions, freshly squeezed orange juice, mangoes, and coffee.

While the NJIT Global Brigades ventured to Panama with the expectation that they were to help people less fortunate than themselves, the group found that they were touched and changed by the very people that they were there to help. After spending a week in a foreign country, where conditions were primitive, food was different, and supplies were limited, many came away proud to express a newly ignited passion for healthcare.

“This trip to Panama was more than just a trip to help people that society deems to be less fortunate. It was a trip that made my world a little bigger. They taught me that despite any hardship, there is always something to be grateful for,” remarks Yasmine Elfarra, Freshman biology major and brigader.

“I know that the future of Global Brigades at NJIT will definitely be successful,” asserts the Chapter’s Vice-President, Kristie Varghese. “This spring break was our first brigade and we had over 30 brigaders, which is a lot of people compared to other university chapters. With the increasing number of students pursuing STEM careers Global Brigades facilitates a great opportunity for these students to gain a unique hands on experience in providing healthcare and building sustainable communities in Central America. Today, NJIT’s chapter focuses on medical and dental brigades so in the distant future I hope to see students venture into different brigades including public health, finance, engineering, and business. Overall, I am happy with the work we’ve accomplished this past year and thankful for everyone’s help for our successful brigade to Panama especially since we are a new organization and I am confident students will continue to volunteer their time to help others through our organization.”