Environmental Brigade fundraises for trip to aid communities in Panama

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Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Since its addition to campus in 2013, UT’s chapter of Global Environmental Brigades, or GEB, has had one goal in mind each year: Panama. The organization plans an annual week-long trip to Panama, where students teach proper waste disposal techniques.

This year, however, the group has experienced several changes. With a new president in charge, the organization has extended its focus to the Austin area.

“There are a lot of ways to improve campus,” said Dakota Stormer, chapter president and chemical engineering sophomore. “Even though we do a lot, there are still more things we can do.”

In addition to planning its next trip to Panama, the group is organizing local events to aid the UT and Austin communities. The organization is putting together a kayaking trip in which they will collect trash from the water while enjoying a day on the river. 

For the winter, they are organizing an outing to a farmers market, where they will gather organic materials to create Christmas ornaments to sell during finals week. The money will go toward their trip to Panama in May. 

Amanda Koif, vice president of social events and civil engineering sophomore, said she is happy with the new local activities.

“I really like how, now that [Stormer] has taken over, we are also focusing on doing environmental projects in the Austin area,” Koif said. “I think it’s really cool that we are looking at both places now.”

The UT brigade is part of a larger conglomerate of Global Brigades. College campuses also host chapters that focus on medicine, business, engineering and more. 

“Global Brigades as a whole is meant to be a giant unit that works to build a sustainable community,” Stormer said. “They go and help build a community and teach them what they need to know to sustain themselves over time.”

Since taking over the campus chapter in October, Stormer said he has faced several challenges, especially when it comes to fundraising. The group plans to bring 20 students to Panama, but must raise about $1,700 per person. 

“We’re piloting a new fundraising system,” Stormer said. “We’re going to companies and asking them to donate to our cause. When they donate, we offer them advertisements like logos on our T-shirts, PowerPoints and emails.”

While in Panama, the group plans to partner up with the campus’ Business Brigade chapter. Last year, GEB partnered with Architecture Brigade to build a greenhouse that taught a community sustainable agriculture techniques. 

“It was really crazy to see how much we got done in a week,” Stormer said. “They don’t really have power tools, so it was all
manpower. We had to go down to the local river bed to go dig out dirt so we could have mulch and fertile soil.”

They also went to an elementary school to teach students and parents. Valerie Diaz, vice president of education and civil engineering sophomore, is in charge of teaching students abroad and at home. In addition to teaching a community about different types of recycling, she is also teaching GEB members basic Spanish so they can communicate in Panama. According to Stormer, teaching proper waste management is vital.

“It’s really upsetting to see that they have trash piled up all over the place,” Stormer said. “These developing nations are getting things like plastics and metal and containers that they’re not used to having. Typically they could eat a banana and put the peel on the ground, and it’ll decompose, but now they have plastics and diapers that they don’t know what to do with.”

Stormer said one of the most important aspects of GEB is that it seeks to provide long-lasting aid.

“We’re not going over there to provide them with something,” Stormer said. “We’re there to help them learn how to do things themselves.”