Panelists call for more group efforts to improve international sustainability

Elizabeth Byrne, Reporter

Northwestern professors and representatives from various global health-oriented student groups spoke during a Thursday event about the need for increased collaboration on international sustainability efforts.

Northwestern Global Brigades, Engineers for a Sustainable World and AIESEC, a global nonprofit that organizes service trips for university students, organized the panel as part of Global Sustainability Week. The panel featured anthropology and global health studies Prof. Peter Locke, lecturer Michael Diamond and McCormick Prof. Kimberly Gray.

Tiffany Teng, former education chair for NU Global Brigades, said the idea of Global Sustainability Week began as a way to educate students who were interested in traveling abroad with the organization. As more groups showed interested in partnering with NU Global Brigades, the week shifted to include the entire student body, Teng said.

“I’m hoping that because there’s a wide variety of events, someone can go to at least one event and can learn something about sustainability,” the Weinberg senior said.

Global Brigades is an international nonprofit that sends students on skill-based programs to communities that require aid in transitioning to sustainable environment. The brigades aim to educate and help members of struggling communities on issues such as public health, business and infrastructure, Teng said.

Unlike other international nonprofits, Global Brigades sends teams of students to the same communities every three to four months to ensure that they can sustain themselves, Teng said. The NU chapter of Global Brigades focuses on medical trips to Panama and Nicaragua to set up clinics and treat patients, she said.

McCormick sophomore and AIESEC member Ian Su, who attended the event, said he went on a Global Brigades trip last spring to Nicaragua and spent his summer in Kazakhstan on an AIESEC trip. Service trips like the brigades allow students to have a well-rounded international experience, Su said.

“When I was abroad doing service, it wasn’t just about me helping them,” he said. “It was more about learning new cultures, interacting with the locals and coming back with a better understanding of what is going on in that part of the world.”

The panel also focused on the need for extended collaboration between NU and the communities students travel to. The panel emphasized the need for larger international organizations such as NU Global Brigades and AIESEC to connect with local aid organizations to strengthen those relationships and ensure the communities remain sustainable.

Diamond, who lectures in the global health studies program, said international sustainability trips can be unintentionally damaging to communities that are trying to be sustainable.

“When engaging in direct service, you must be aware of the social, political, economical consequences that may arise because of it,” Diamond said. “You have to remember it’s a privilege to visit that community.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @lizbyrne33