Global Brigades: Aiming to Change Lives Across the World


Photo by Ryan Lanxton

Global Brigades offers students the opportunity to travel the world while helping others.

Ryan Lanxton, Writer

Does the prospect of traveling to other countries such as Ghana or Honduras excite you? Looking for a way to volunteer your time to make a difference in local communities? Global Brigades may be the right fit for you. 

A volunteer group dedicated to bringing healthcare, education and things we take for granted every day to some of the poorest countries in the world, Global Brigades is a student organization with a new chapter hopeful to call UM-Flint home.

Andrea LaRocque, a senior and pre-physician assistant student at UM-Flint, has applied to form the new volunteer student organization, anticipating it will soon be up and running. 

“My executive board is fully established and I have about maybe 20 to 30 people who are on my email list saying that they want to be a part of it,” said LaRocque. “But my goal is to reach out to anyone in the medical field. We could go pre-dental, even maybe nursing. I want to reach out to all those people. I’m sure they would be interested in the opportunity, as well.”

She said her main inspiration for starting the chapter came from her time spent volunteering during her study abroad trip in Tanzania, an impoverished country in southeast Africa. LaRocque’s work mostly involved observing how the Tanzanian health care system worked, helping wherever she could.

“I got to see firsthand their health care system and I just loved it. I loved being there … just the fact that I could help them more than what they already have,” said LaRocque. “I just want to travel abroad and help people who need it the most. Basically, I’ve always just been drawn to serving people.”

LaRocque will also be volunteering in Honduras next May with the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s Global Brigades chapter, which has been working closely with her to get the UM-Flint chapter started.

However, the work of Global Brigades goes beyond just helping with a community’s health issues. Volunteers are asked to follow what Global Brigades calls their “holistic model.” This model works to establish clean water sources, home sanitation systems and eventually sustainable economic growth for the long-term through the establishment of businesses and community-owned banking systems.

An organization with over 78,000 volunteers, Global Brigades works mainly in five different countries around the world. These include Panama and Honduras in Central America and refugee camps in Greece.

LaRocque’s goal for the organization is to send at least one “brigade,” or mission, each year. By doing so, it will give many students the opportunity to go overseas and volunteer. Each brigade will last approximately seven to 12 days. 

However, she wanted to make it clear that these trips are not vacation opportunities, or what has popularly been dubbed “voluntourism.” 

“I would say this is not voluntourism; yes we are traveling to a foreign country and you will get to experience a different part of the world, but it is not by any means a ‘vacation.’ They are the average person’s living environment. So if anyone thought it would be a luxurious cheap vacation, then they would probably be disappointed,” said LaRocque.

Because the organization is made completely of volunteers, all expenses for going overseas will have to be covered by members. Her upcoming trip to Honduras in May will cost her approximately $2,000 in travel and housing costs, and she expects the UM-Flint chapter’s brigades to be similar in price. 

LaRocque is planning to run several different types of fundraising events to help offset the costs. She is hoping to finalize these events once the organization is fully formed.

Additionally, the price to go on these brigades will be lower when there are more volunteers attending. “The more people you get, the cheaper it’s gonna be to go on,” said LaRocque. 

Although most students who have signed up so far are pre-PA or in the nursing program, LaRocque said no previous experience is required to volunteer and anyone is welcome to join. 

To receive updates on the progress of the organization, email LaRocque at [email protected].

“It’s life-changing if they go on a trip. My Tanzania trip was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was eye-opening … and I want other people to experience that,” said LaRocque.