Brandeis Global Brigade captures Brandeisian spirit
President Marsha Patel ’14 and her brigadiers make real and lasting impact
Sometimes, a story comes along that’s too Brandeisian to make up. The tale of Brandeis’ Global Brigade and its founding president is one of them.
Marsha Patel ’14 is a triple major in biology, neuroscience and Health: Science, Society and Policy (HSSP). As a freshman, she learned about an international organization called The Global Brigades, a student-led global health and sustainable development organization. The Global Brigades builds relationships with villages in Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Ghana and sends students and professionals to work within the communities to implement health, economic and education initiatives.
Patel was intrigued with the mission but Brandeis didn’t have a chapter. If she wanted to start one and participate in organization’s medical outreach to Honduras, Patel would need to recruit at least 20 students and raise enough money to cover the cost of bringing medication to the village.
“A few of my friends thought I was crazy,” Patel recalls. “But this is Brandeis. Brandeis allows you to do things like this because it gives you the people and resources to do it. The people here are willing to be selfless.”
Patel reached out to students, staff and faculty and, within the year, had 20 students, two volunteer doctors and enough money to buy medication for 1,000 people in the Honduran village.
A few weeks before the Brandeis Brigades left on their first trip to Honduras in 2012, Patel got an email from a student at the International Business School. It was written casually — a simple offer of help and support. It read: I hear you’re bringing medical aid to Honduras. My father is the president of Honduras and I’d like to help.
“I though it was a prank at first, it was so nonchalant,” Patel says. “It was so Brandeis. I think there are a lot of schools where people would brag or be snobby about things like that but that doesn’t happen here. Brandeis is full of normal people who are extraordinary and who are trying to do the simplest thing, which is to help other people.”
Soon, word got around to the U.S. Ambassador of Honduras, Lisa Kubiske ’75, that a group of students from her alma mater would be visiting the country on a medical mission.
“So we land in Honduras and the first thing we do is have lunch with the president,” Patel recalls. “After that, we have dinner with the U.S. ambassador, the president of peace corps in Honduras and the minister of public health.”
All this happened, Patel says, because of Brandeis’ reputation in the global community.
“Normally students would feel content with meeting such distinguished figures; however, my brigadiers left the ambassadors house feeling a little unsettled about meeting such important people without putting in the work. This made us more determined to work hard for the next week and act selflessly,” Patel says.
In the village, the team worked with the community to set up health clinics, distribute medicine and provide health education.
The next year, the chapter expanded to include a public health program. They returned to the same town, this time providing both medical and infrastructure support. The public health team built hygiene stations, clean water storage tanks, and houses with concrete floors and eco-friendly burning stoves.
This year, the chapter expanded again to include a microfinance program, which worked with families on how to use crops and develop sustainable livelihoods.
Now, about 150 students are involved in Brandeis Global Brigades.
Patel, who serves as the president of the Global Brigades, says she’s not at all worried about the chapter when she graduates this May and prepares for medical school in the fall.
“This is Brandeis, this is what we do,” she says. “All it took was 20 people to share what an impact helping others made in their lives for this organization to grow into what it is today. With determination, the willingness to be open-minded and a whole lot of teamwork, any extravagant vision can turn into reality. There is no way I would have seen this much success with Global Brigades if there weren’t people working just as hard as me to meet the same end goal.”