Beyond Relief, Towards Sustainable Development

Beyond Relief, Towards Sustainable Development

Merrilee Chapin, 01/13/2010

Global Medical Brigades brings much needed relief to rural Honduran villages. But what happens when they see the same reoccurring illnesses time after time, year after year? Global Brigades students began Water Brigades and Public Health Brigades to provide preventative infrastructure and health education to these same communities. But how do we make these health projects sustainable? How can the communities afford to maintain and expand upon these projects on their own well into the future? This is the charge of Microfinance Brigades.

Our health brigades travel all the way to rural Honduras because these are some of the poorest villages in the country, and Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and “Poverty is the most deadly and prevalent of all disease.” -Eugene O’Neill. Without a doubt, poverty is a major obstacle to improving development and health of our communities. How can we attempt to truly improve a community´s health without addressing the economic side of development? The most powerful thing about Global Brigades is we don´t have to. Microfinance Brigades can work directly with the other GB disciplines to combat both health and economic problems facing Honduras.

Microfinance Brigades (MFB) provides the educational, financial, and organizational resources necessary to sustainably drive their own economic development. MFB provides the financial backing and technical support to create and strengthen independent community banks. These banks not only provide access to loans, but also serve as mechanisms for social and economic change. A study from JICA found this community bank model to increase the household incomes of its members an average of 75% over just three years! MFB clubs get to partner with other international organizations in microfinance and agriculture (including FINCA, FUNDER, and EDA) to train community members how they can invest in their lives and businesses, ensure against emergencies, and fund community projects.

As one example, the community banks of Joyas del Carballo are currently working together with Public Health Brigades to manage the funds for their community´s health construction projects. In the second phase, this revolving fund will have grown sufficiently and the community bank leaders will be fully trained to make these same construction projects happen entirely on their own. Never underestimate the capabilities of even the poorest villages. This grass-roots approach actually works and advances communities away from dependence on outside aid and towards self-reliance. They just need Microfinance Brigades to provide them the tools to get them started.

Merrilee Chapin is Microfinance Brigade Director with Global Brigades, currently living and working in Honduras.

Find out how to start a Microfinance Brigade by contacting For questions regarding projects in Honduras, please contact


Merrilee Chapin helping community member during first Microfinance Training session.


Community member learning how to calculate interest during Microfinance training.


Community members from Pajarillos and Joyas, on the bus back from Microfinance training.


One thought on “Beyond Relief, Towards Sustainable Development

  1. A more holistic approach to aid will likely be the answer to alleviating the poverty seen in Honduran villages. It sounds like MFB and GMB are on the right track. Health education and immediate medical attention are certainly a critical part of the equation but to make lasting effects, the population needs to also be given the tools to pull itself from poverty so it can address these issues themselves. Opportunities with microfinance will help to increase incomes and therefore autonomy. Another consideration: many of these villages are without electricity. Small-scale, rudimentary, renewable energy development could be a critical element to enabling community growth.

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