Each week we bring you the story and perspective of an outstanding volunteer. This week, meet Brillante Eric Wang, a Business Brigades and Microfinance Brigades volunteer from the University of Southern California who has participated in Brigades to both Panama and Honduras.
My first Brigade was with Business Brigades in Panama, which was my first experience volunteering in a developing country. As we canoed toward the island we would be volunteering at, I felt slightly nervous because I didn’t really know what to expect. After arriving on the island however, all of my worries fell straight to the bottom of the ocean upon seeing the friendly faces of the locals and taking in the rawness of the island. At our first community meeting, I could feel the warmth of the culture we had just stepped into as the leaders of the island graciously welcomed us. While staring at the rudimentary, yet beautifully effective, hut we were in, I couldn’t help but notice the kids who were smiling at us across the room. I knew that the week to come was going to be a remarkable one.
After the meeting, things got really interesting. What started off as a 7 year old and I copying each other’s dance moves quickly escalated into a full-on party of kids and volunteers running and laughing around a small dirt field. Combined with the community meeting, this basically set the tone for the rest of the week. Each day we would hold serious discussions about what we had gathered from interviews and worked on putting together presentations. Then afterward, we would socialize with the locals and play with the kids for hours. By the end of the week, I truly felt a powerful connection with the community.
However, that is not to say that it was always easy. Helping to improve the quality of life in a poor community was way more difficult than any of us ever could have fathomed. Interestingly, that’s what made it equally gratifying for everyone involved. For every ounce of work put in, one received back in fulfillment. Even in times of struggle and when things weren’t going as planned, the locals were still so appreciative of any work we did. Seeing their smiling faces and knowing how much it meant to them motivated us to try our hardest and give it our all, because that’s what the locals deserved.
The experience impacted me because I went there expecting to be the one teaching, but came back having learned so much more from the community. The entire island was brimming with joy and optimism. This raised the question, how could a tiny island that has so little, at the same time have so much love and generosity? Alternatively one may ask, how could a nation that has so much, at the same time have so much misery and greed? I am still trying to find an answer to this question.
The experience directly inspired me to volunteer as an English teacher in rural Ecuador the following summer. It is also the reason why a few friends and I decided to revive the Global Microfinance Brigades chapter at our university. The reason for doing so is because I wanted to give others the same life-changing experience that I had when I first went with Global Brigades. After recruiting volunteers and spending a week in Honduras doing microfinance work last winter, I knew that I had successfully shared that feeling with many others.
As a result of my life-changing experiences with Global Brigades, I am now seriously considering it as something I can hopefully continue doing as a career option after graduating. The entire staff at Global Brigades is extraordinarily kind, driven, and easy to get along with, all of whom I am honored to have worked with. This definitely also includes the translators, security, and our beloved bus driver! The relentless combined effort of the Global Brigades staff is what brings people together from across cultures in order to learn from each other skills and values. It is not a one sided relationship, but a mutual one, which is what makes the experience so incredibly rewarding for everyone