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Global Brigades

A Global Brigades service trip to Ghana provides senior Princess Bart-Addison with an opportunity to "give back" and connect with her family's heritage.

Taking a break, during Global Brigade's 2019 trip to Ghana. Princess Bart-Addison is second from left.

Senior Princess Bart-Addison was born and raised in the Bronx. But she grew up hearing stories about the Republic of Ghana — her parents’ homeland — and, while English is her first language, she also speaks Twi (Akan), one of the more than 250 languages and dialects spoken in the country. In 2018, she paid her first visit to Ghana, traveling alongside her mother who’d left the country more than two and a half decades earlier and was returning for the first time.

Bart-Addison recalls the trip as life-changing; the people electrifying. Children walked throughout the streets selling items to passersby. A young woman carried her child on her back, deftly balancing large packages on her head as she walked through the streets. “Everyone is doing something. There is so much determination,” says Bart-Addison. Inspired, she visited an elementary school in Ghana — and, upon returning to the U.S., helped her sister, a high school senior, collect much-needed supplies to send to the students.

In January 2019, Bart-Addison returned to Ghana, traveling with the university’s chapter of Global Brigades — a secular, student-led service organization. Global Brigades has university chapters throughout the world with an overarching goal: to empower volunteers to help resolve global health and economic disparities in communities around the globe.

Founded in 2016, Southern’s chapter has quickly attracted members. Bart-Addison was one of 21 Southern students to join the brigade along with a faculty member. “I was so excited to be going back to Ghana. The first time was a vacation. This time was for service. It was a different feeling,” she says.

Southern participated in a “public health brigade,” traveling to the community of Ekumpoano in Ghana to help local masons build biodigester tanks for use with pour-flush toilets. The work is critically needed. Nationally, 22.9 percent of people in Ghana do not have access to any sanitation facilities (open defecation is the norm) and only 15 percent use improved, unshared sanitation facilities, according to UNICEF.

Global Brigades launched its first public health initiative in Ghana in January 2019, so the Southern students joined the effort on the ground floor. For Bart-Addison, the prospect was simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating. “There was a group before us, so we saw what they had built [a completed biodigester tank]. I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?” she says.

Members of Southern’s Global Brigade team hard at work on the biodigester.

The group began by meeting with families in the community. “We went to their homes to introduce ourselves . . . to ask them about their problems, and learn about their families and their needs,” says Bart-Addison. The next day, the students divided into groups of four or five, and were paired with a local mason. The construction techniques were vastly different than in the U.S. “We have machines to mix the cement. Over there, they pour the cement on the floor, add the water, and then turn it with a shovel,” says Bart-Addison, who was able to assist her group as a translator.

The students stayed in a modernized hotel, traveling by bus each day to the community. With temperatures rising through the 90s, they worked from early morning through the late afternoon, using cement, cinder blocks, bricks, and sand to help construct the biodigester tanks. “There was so much sand and dirt in our shoes and on our clothes. And we were so tired immediately after, but on the bus ride back we always had enough energy to sing and talk,” she says.

Southern’s team built five biodigesters. After completing the project, they provided lessons on how to correctly use the systems. They also taught a children’s class on hygiene, demonstrating proper hand-washing techniques with a song. “One of my friends wrote it in their language. It was really nice. The children sat in a circle and sang it to us,” says Bart-Addison.

Students received an invitation to meet with the local chief.

This connection with the community was a high point for Bart-Addison. The group enjoyed trips to several historical and cultural sites — and was invited to meet with the chief at his palace. He thanked the students profusely, invited them back, and even exchanged cellphone numbers.

Completing the project brought an amazing sense of accomplishment and gratitude. “It definitely gives you a great sense of appreciation. I have a toilet that flushes — and I don’t think anything of it. But to them, this is probably the best thing that has happened in a very long time. . . . It will make a difference in their lives.They will remember it,” says Bart-Addison, with a smile.

As will she. An interdisciplinary studies major with concentrations in forensic science, sociology, and social science and medicine, Bart-Addison plans to work with at-risk youth. She’s spent the past three summers as a counselor at Epworth United Methodist Church Day Camp in the Bronx — and also volunteers with KHAIR (pronounced “care”), which serves at-risk youth from New Haven through mentoring and workshops on topics like financial literacy and dressing for success. On campus, she’s a vital member of the True Blue Owls team, working within the Division of Institutional Advancement to highlight the importance of giving.

“I loved how our group was so open to new experiences like trying new foods and listening to new music. The people from Global Brigades would play African music on our bus. By the end of the trip, our group was singing along.” — senior Princess Bart-Addison

Bart-Addison graduates in May and is looking into service work opportunities. Meanwhile, her Global Brigades teammates have stayed in touch — in person and through social media. “We’ll put pictures up. If someone is listening to a song we heard in Ghana, they’ll share it with everyone — and it always brings me right back,” she says.

Photos by Southern student Brokk Tollefson, a sociology major and journalism minor, who will graduate in May 24, 2019.

See an album of photos from Ghana.

A lively welcoming committee met the Southern students each day.

Students in Nicaragua

Winter break may feel like just a distant memory for most students by now, but for one group of Southern students, this year’s break created memories that will last a lifetime.

Members of a university club called Global Brigades traveled to Nicaragua from January 5-13 to work on a project to help improve water access and sanitation for a remote village. The students did all of the planning and fundraising for the trip and did not receive course credit for their work; their efforts were all volunteer. “I think this level of volunteerism abroad is a first for SCSU,” says Michael Schindel, assistant director of the Office of International Education and the club’s adviser.

The Southern group is a chapter of the national nonprofit organization Global Brigades, the largest student-led international community service group. Global Brigades operates in four countries — Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama — and provides ongoing support within the countries. Essentially, different college chapters fundraise to pay for airfare, accommodation, and funds to support the projects in these countries for periods of one week to 10 days, with the option of going for longer. One university chapter joins a project after another leaves, so that the projects can remain continuous. The projects focus on different community needs relating to public health, medical and dental needs, engineering, microfinance, water access, and human rights.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

The Southern chapter has been on campus for two years, and this was the group’s first time conducting a “brigade” abroad. Students Sleman Hussein and Amanda Saslow and a core group of other students started the chapter; they drafted the constitution, made all the connections with the national organization, and recruited members. For the trip to Nicaragua, the executive board oversaw all of the travel arrangements, as well as fundraising, planning the “Charla” (a community public health lesson that was presented to a group of children, entirely in Spanish), and designing the t-shirts.

Hussain praises the dedication of the students who joined Global Brigades. “We went through many hurdles and obstacles to build the club,” he says. “We have 14 devoted people who spent the last couple years fundraising money, not for a vacation, or to donate to a church or soup kitchen. No, we have 14 devoted people who took time out of their busy college schedules to go to a third world country and break their backs for a week.”

Saslow agrees, adding, “I am so beyond proud of not only the 14 individuals joining us on the brigade but the entire Global Brigades family that we’ve established at Southern. It has been incredible seeing students support each other and stand by each other in an environment where it’s very easy to feel alone. Working with these 14 people has been a life-changing experience and I’m definitely walking out of here with a heck of a lot more than just a degree.”

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Student Emily Gersz, a member of the club who went to Nicaragua, says she found the experience “life-changing.” She admits the trip “was a ton of hard work . . . but I’d do it 100 times over to see the gratitude in the eyes of the families we helped.”

According to Paul Nicholas, a member of the club’s e-board, the students did manual labor each day for five days, waking up at 6 a.m., taking a two-hour bus ride to Jinotega, the community where they worked, and then working side-by-side with the families they were helping. Together, they built concrete floors, sanitary stations, and septic tanks for homes that were typically made out of cinderblocks and wood branches, with dirt floors.

“The families were so welcoming and humble; letting us (complete strangers) work in and outside their homes,” Nicholas says. He explains that the group worked on building sanitary stations because many families don’t have toilets or showers at all. Because the women have back problems from always bending down to scrub clothes when doing laundry, the wash stations in the sanitary stations were raised to a higher level.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Nicholas says the conditions some of the families live in helped him realize that “there are so many more important things to worry about in this world . . . as opposed to all the small things we worry about here in the U.S.” He learned that the men in Jinotega make about two dollars a day, while the women have to walk miles carrying clean water from a clean source. Before Global Brigades became involved in helping Jinotega, the village’s water had a high concentration of fecal matter, causing parasites and disease. The solution Global Brigades is providing is to build an irrigation system directly connecting clean water from the mountains to many communities.

Part of the Global Brigades model is to have the community receiving assistance also participate in the work and provide some funding, so that the community is helping itself and taking ownership of the improvement projects.

Student Annie Kaczmarczyk’s outlook on life was transformed by her experience on the trip. “My perspective on what I take for granted has been drastically changed after seeing people live without basic life necessities,” she says. “What impacted me most on the trip is truly how much compassion and joy the people of Nicaragua have, even in such a dire state.”

Schindel says, “I am so proud of and impressed by this group of students. They took all of this on, set a goal, and worked all year towards achieving it.” Schindel applauds the students for volunteering their winter breaks “to spend it digging trenches for water pipes, laying concrete foundations in people’s homes, building sanitation stations with access to potable water and waste removal, and teaching children about proper hygiene.”

See an album of students’ photos from the Global Brigades trip.
Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade