Students Bring Sustainability, Clean Water to Ghana

Before the trip to Ghana this coming summer, two Texas GWB officers give a brief presentation on Ghana education to the other members.

Photo Credit: Darice Chavira

A group of UT students will make the trek overseas to help a community in Ghana develop its water infrastructure this August. These students are part of the Global Water Brigade, a campus organization that creates trips to give students a chance to learn and play an integral role in community development.

GWB is one chapter of a larger organization called Global Brigade. UT is one of only three universities in the United States to have all 10 chapters of Global Brigade.

“Global Brigade is an organization on campus comprised of 10 different chapters including medical, dental, architecture and water. It pretty much covers all aspects of health and economic development,” Juan Resendez, the president of Global Water Brigade, said. “We go to communities in Ghana, Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras, and we set up water projects. The idea is that all the projects we engage in are sustainable, so we want to go in there and train community members and ensure that whatever projects we do build, they’ll be able to sustain it and work on it on their own.”

Sustainability is a central part of the Global Water Brigade’s mission, and ‘Brigaders’ spend time educating community members about health, sanitation and the new systems built during the brigade.

“We go into under-resourced communities and provide sustainable systems, ‘cause that’s, I guess, our biggest goal — is for these people to be able to handle and manage whatever system we leave there,” Resendez said. “We build a partnership with these communities. We like to say we are building a partnership with them instead of ‘aiding’ them.”

A brigade, which usually lasts 7 to 10 days, can be an eye-opening and exciting experience.

“It definitely changes your worldview,” Emily Edwards, the vice president of GWB, said. “I feel like I walked away from both trips with a better understanding of culture. They make sure you know a lot about the history and the culture, so I appreciate that. It’s not just like you’re doing manual labor; it’s a very well-rounded experience. It’s not like you just see, ‘Oh these people don’t have clean water,’ you get to see all the cool things that they do have.”

    

ChanAn Duong, a current officer of the Texas GWB, givers her last presentation at the final general meeting. ChanAn plans to graduate in May with some of her fellow GWB seniors. [PHOTO CREDIT: Darice Chavira]

According to seasoned Brigaders, understanding culture and making connections with the members of the community can be a memorable and enjoyable part of the experience.

“The kids in the community were what made Ghana extra fun. In Ghana, they were just like, ‘Hey, what’s happening? Talk to me in your language.’ They’re so cute, not gonna lie — the kids make it 10 times better than it would be,” Edwards said. “Some of them are clearly affected by diseases that we’re working to prevent. So it’s really heartening to know that this kid is having problems right now because he has dirty water, but we will build this and then they’ll be less affected.”

As Global Water Brigade prepares for their second trip to Ghana this summer, they hope to gain more student interest going into next year.

“Our meetings are usually once every two weeks, so it’s not a huge commitment, and they don’t last over an hour,” Edwards said. “We try to do fun stuff; we go out and fundraise for the brigades, but we do socials, too. I feel like GWB is a good group of friends — especially after you go to a foreign country together — there’s a lot of things that happen and you’re like, ‘No one else can understand this.’”

Global Water Brigade will resume general body meetings next semester. Students who want to get involved can join their Facebook page to receive updates about meeting times, workshop dates and brigade information.

“The water chapter specifically, we have a problem with member retention just because water isn’t super attractive to people,” Resendez said. “The biggest burden of health in these communities is water-borne illness. So it’s if you really want to intercept and combat all these different illnesses, you start with water, and then work your way up. A lot of people don’t realize that.”