Each week we bring you the story and perspective of an outstanding volunteer. This week, meet Genie Alvarez, a Public Health Brigades volunteer from UC Irvine who recently participated in a Public Health Brigade to Honduras.
This past March, I spent my spring break with UCI Public Health Brigades implementing construction projects alongside community members for three families in the rural community of El Canton. While our time in Honduras was short, we were building sustainable projects with the capacity to last for years to come, changing each family’s lives for the better through home infrastructure improvement and disease prevention.
Our families were the most genuine, good-hearted people I had ever met. Every day, they told us of how thankful they were for all our hard work and efforts. I remember the way the grandmother began to cry, repeating “Gracias, Gracias,” after we had finished construction. Thank you for helping build them an eco-stove, a latrine, a pila. A safe place where they can cook, a bathroom they could use in privacy, a clean source to store water. All things we never really pay attention to back home because it’s just an expectation to have. At despedida, I remember the grandfather described how he would never be able to repay us; that he and his family would be forever indebted to us for the sacrifices we made to help them. We told him rather that it’s us who will forever be indebted to him and his family for all the love and hospitality they showed us. Our little sacrifice of going there to help pales so much in comparison to the struggles they face and I don’t think they realize they teach us and give us so much more than we do in return.
It’s hard to put into words how much of an impact a brigade has on you. Yet I’ll always remember my family’s looks of excitement at the finished hygiene station, their overjoyed smiles when cooking over their eco-stove for the very first time, and the way the school children’s eyes lit up with pure happiness as we played games in the schoolyard during our education charla. I’ll always remember all the love and warmth that radiated from each of them as they welcomed us into their homes with open arms, growing closer throughout the week and learning more about Honduran culture despite the language barrier, and our tear filled goodbyes during despedida. After our farewells, I remember gathering around for pictures one last time, attempting to store and commit every sound, every detail to memory. I hoped all these moments would never slip from my grasp because I couldn’t imagine a time or place where so much love filled the room, where I had felt happier.
Coming home was probably one of the most difficult parts. I was angry – angry that such huge disparities in the world existed, angry that once actively participating in helping alleviate a family’s hardship I was returning to a state where I felt idle. It’s hard to come for a week, foster such a deep bond with the families, and then have to leave them behind just as quickly. It’s hard to dive into an experience, be surrounded by so much challenges and inspiration, then return home and be thrust back into normalcy. Yet I soon realized that as brutal the first couple of weeks may be, I needed to find a way to turn that anger into something beneficial because being upset wouldn’t help the families we’d grown so close to.
As students, often times we can get discouraged and question how and whether we can make a significant impact in changing our world for the better. Global Brigades helped me recognize that it is possible; that the youth can serve a powerful role in international development and that a collaborative team effort of passionate individuals can bring about sustainable solutions and positive social change in developing countries around the world. Global Brigades inspires students to become passionate global citizens, to further find ways to serve the underprivileged in our own communities and abroad. Volunteering with Global Brigades has enriched my life in more ways than I could ever describe and I can definitely say that my trip to Honduras was one the most life-changing experiences of my undergraduate career, and surely one I will never forget.