Global Brigades in Honduras

Kate Masetta ('11)

This winter, I was one of eleven students to travel to Honduras as part of Global Brigades. Wake Forest has two newly-formed clubs, Microfinance and Medical Brigades, which are part of this student-led global health and sustainable development organization. I traveled to Honduras as part of the microfinance team.

In Honduras, the microfinance team worked in a small village called Pajarillos. A drought that plagued southern Honduras last summer has made life challenging. In the village, many farmers who normally sell corn and beans to support their families could not grow beans due to the lack of water, and only had mediocre corn crops to sell to the ‘coyote’ — a middleman who has a truck and is able to take their crops from the community down to the market.

Our Microfinance Brigade conducted home visits and developed plans to help increase income to the families, such as taking out loans through the Caja, a community banking system which lends out small loans to community members. The Caja was set up about a year ago. Villagers can purchase a share of the Caja to become a member. Members can serve on its board and receive a lower interest rate for loans.

Villagers are encouraged to open savings accounts with the Caja. This is important for the community not only in terms of loans and savings, but also because part of its revenues go toward infrastructure for the village. The ultimate goal in Pajarillos is to build a silo for the community, so that crops can be sold year-round for competitive prices. The Caja also uses some of its revenues as a catastrophe fund.

Some farmers use loans from the Caja to invest in pesticides and irrigation systems for their crops; one villager took out a loan to invest in growing onion and tomatoes. A woman, who had taken out a loan to open a pulperia (a small convenient shop within one’s home) about six months before we arrived, has been extremely successful. She decided to take out another loan to sell more items within her shop.

Our job was to help educate the community about the Caja, what it means to be a part of a banking system, and how it can benefit the community. We hosted a workshop for the community on how to create personal business plans and how to analyze expenses and revenues. Over 100 community members attended our presentation. We had an incredible time learning from the community members and using our knowledge in microfinance to help build the economy of Pajarillos, and we are excited to continue Global Brigades trips this upcoming spring and summer break!

In addition to our Microfinance Brigade, Wake Forest students joined Albion College for a Medical Brigade, the medical team set up a free clinic for people to receive medical and dental care. The medical team helped with administrative work, as well as assisting the doctors and dentists with their examinations. Each day, the brigade educated children, adolescents, and adults on ways to avoid sickness and disease, such as washing one’s hands and drinking clean water.

My friend, Maelys Amat, who is a junior pre-med student, said the experience was a perfect way to learn by “shadowing” professional doctors and dentists while providing a much-needed community service.

But this is exactly what I love about Global Brigades — the community participation. Members of a service brigade work with the people they will be helping to find out what is most needed and how these needs might best be met. This approach makes it possible for local people to take part in finding the best solutions to community challenges.

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