DePaul student Daniel ClarkDaniel Clark (‘12) was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes the contributions of young adult volunteers, especially honoring those who by their commitment and example inspire others. Clark received the award for his work with Global Brigades in Honduras, where for the last two years he has led projects to help improve living and health conditions in underserved communities.

When I joined Global Brigades my sophomore year, I had never been out of the country, never even been on an airplane. I told myself, “If you don’t do this now, you might not get another chance.” Thinking to get some experience toward an education in medicine, I joined DePaul’s Medical and Public Health Brigades for two weeks in Honduras — two weeks that came together in an amazing way and shaped the rest of my college education and career plans.

Right now, about 150 DePaul students are volunteering through Global Brigades, an international organization that sends students from the US, Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland to work in Honduras, Panama, or Ghana. The student teams help local communities gain access to medical care, water, housing, infrastructure, and micro-financing by using a holistic model of sustainable development. The DePaul chapter — run by students — hosts multiple trips each year.

Despite short visits, student teams can have a high impact in the field — these are high activity days, beginning at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. Students with a medical or public health brigade work in all areas — from triage to pharmacy, from shadowing doctors to conducting health education workshops. During the first week of my initial trip to Honduras, I worked in the pharmacy, mostly giving out medication for upper respiratory problems. During the second week, my team focused on one family: How could we help improve living conditions? The people live in homes with wood-burning stoves but no ventilation. No wonder they have trouble breathing! Their homes have dirt floors: that explains the high demand for anti-fungal medications.

Seeing people’s homes was the “ah-ha” moment for me. Everyone knows that the environment affects people’s health, but to see this so explicitly was a revelation. When I asked myself, “How can I best help these people?” the answer was “Build an eco-friendly chimney” or “Lay a concrete floor.” As a pre-med student, I found this mind-blowing.

Junior year, I became the leader of DePaul’s Public Health Brigade, which includes sub-groups focused on education, public relations, donations and supplies, and construction development. As a group, we question projects so that both students and Hondurans get the most out of our visits: What can we hope to accomplish? And we have made a real difference.

For example, Global Brigades was asking volunteers to bring donations with them. But not surprisingly, what was being brought was random; overall, the donations did not benefit the families in ways both substantial and sustainable. So, we recommended that teams bring money which families could spend in local stores, getting what they really need and supporting the local economy. The organization changed its policy. Another example: people in the villages were bathing in a polluted river. Our construction development team joined forces with a water brigade to find a solution. We sat down with Honduran technicians, and five months later brigades all over the country were building hygiene stations, which include a private area to bathe.

The best thing about Global Brigades is working side-by-side with the families. We don’t just show and up and do the work; each family contributes labor and funds (this is where a micro-financing brigade comes in). When a family values the work, it maintains the improvements. A project becomes a transformation.

Our Global Brigades chapter thrives because of DePaul’s mission: we are doing good, and we are doing it well. We think in terms of impact: How can we make a difference? At DePaul, this perspective comes naturally. Now that I’ve graduated, I’m joining Global Brigades full-time; I know I’ll do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

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