At the end of fall semester 2018, we heard some bad news. After planning the entire semester for our brigade to Honduras, CMU told us that the school would not allow organizations to go to Honduras because of safety reasons. At first, we panicked. Nicaragua was going through a political revolt, so it was a no-go. Panama was not doing medical brigades. And Ghana was just not feasible. We were concerned we wouldn't even be able to go on a brigade.
The situation was especially stressful because the organization faced a transition this year. We had an extraordinarily large number of new members (the record number in recent years!). 15 out of our 25 members had not participated in CMU GMB before, and we were concerned that these members would never get to experience going on a brigade. Fortunately, Global Brigades let us know that they were reopening medical brigades in Panama, so with a change of location, the trip was back on!
The debacle demonstrated our resilience, a resilience that we needed for the brigade. Our brigade started at 6pm on March 7th, as we met at the Margaret Morrison rotunda. We bussed five hours down to Dulles airport and flew a redeye flight to Panama City. When we arrived, most of us already wanted to hit the hay, but even before getting out of the airport, we faced another dilemma. Our coordinator was nowhere to be seen. We waited for half an hour as Katie and Aliya, our co-presidents, tried to get in contact with Global Brigades. During that half hour, it was simply us, 25 members with our suitcases, stranded at the Panama Airport with no idea how long we would be there.
Our co-presidents finally got a hold of the Global Brigades office, and the people on the other line explained that there was a misunderstanding. Typically, groups did not fly redeye flights, so they assumed we were coming later that day. After waiting another hour, a man from the office came to the airport. The first thing he told us was that if he was there, there was something wrong. Although the statement was certainly frightening, after what we had gone through, nothing seemed to faze us or stop us from having a successful brigade.
Since Global Brigades expected us to come later that day, they had no plan for us, and it was only noon. So, they decided to pay us back in the best way possible: being tourists in Panama for the day! When my friends and family asked me, "If you're going to Panama, are you going to see the Panama Canal?" I responded, "No, we won't have time." I even found it to be on the more unsophisticated side, thinking that we would go to the one place they knew in Panama. But alas, I stood corrected as I marveled at the largest canal in the world.
Now, I could tell the rest of the trip in numbers. I could tell you that we saw 517 patients from 9 communities in three days during our medical clinics in La Venta and El Pueblo Nuevo. I could also tell you that we distributed more than 500 pairs of glasses at our vision clinic and presented to around a hundred kids at our health and wellness fair. But it wouldn't capture all the things we experienced during the trip. It wouldn't speak to the goofballs of the group, like Josh faking a head injury and the Kowalewskis switching the rules to the wombat game (hopefully Cam doesn't read this). It wouldn't remind us of our amazing coordinator, Jose, who is sometimes a good boy, sometimes a bad boy, and sometimes a GMB coordinator, not to mention our amazing translators, Diane and Leo. (While I'm at it, shoutouts to everyone who helped us including the bus drivers, the doctors, and our beloved Mama T, the pharmacist). And it especially wouldn't capture every moment that we had with a community member in all the different stations in the medical clinic, giving meaning to our hard work before and during the trip.
This was my third brigade, and I can safely say that each brigade so far has been incredible in its own ways. This brigade was certainly unique because of our side adventures at the Panama Canal and a zoo, where several of our members had intimate moments with the monkeys (see the pictures, the intimacy was physical!). But for me, the brigade was most meaningful, not because of all the things that happened that make great stories, but the small moments I had with my fellow members. Sharing moments of nervous quietness before the start of a day at the clinic, smiling and waving to another member at a different station, and sharing honest reflections at the end of each day: these are the moments where I felt the strength of a trusting and caring community and they are the moments that push me to keep giving my all to this organization.
So, to all our members, whether you joined the group this year or four years ago, thank you for sharing this amazing experience with me.
Unofficial Social Chair