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Students Build Houses and Relationships with Honduran Family

July 28, 2014

Building a wall

Students in the Drexel Global Architecture Brigade organization didn’t know a lot of Spanish before their mission trip to Honduras, but they quickly learned more than just key phrases while working alongside a local family while building a house.

“Most of our team knew little to no Spanish, yet I could tell our team had developed the strongest connection with our family,” said Danielle Sullivan, president of the Drexel chapter of the organization. “I think this was because we really made an effort to interact with them: We took stabs at speaking Spanish, and we were affectionate and loving with our body language even when our Spanish was not perfect.”

Sullivan, a junior interior design student in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, was one of 12 students who traveled to Honduras for a week in June. The group worked closely with one Honduran family to finish the kitchen in the family home and build a new house for one adult son and his family. They primarily worked on mixing concrete to build walls, which would protect against animals and bugs entering the buildings and spreading diseases.

The students spoke through staff members and official translators from the Global Brigades organization to formally talk to the family, but more often than not, they had to get creative on their own.

“Most of our communication with the family was nonverbal: sticking our tongues out at the kids, hugging, playing soccer and laughing,” Sullivan said.

There was a lot of time to interact with the family, since the team spent all day working on the houses. Lunch and soccer games provided a brief respite from building walls, which meant mixing cement, laying concrete blocks and setting up rebar reinforcement. The hard physical labor was done using very simple tools such as rocks, shovels, metal trowels, hammers and homemade ladders and scaffolding.

On top of that, the heavy labor was performed in 90-degree weather, and the students had to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants for protection against the mosquitos and building materials.

While working alongside the family members on the construction, the team practiced Spanish and became familiar with key phrases such as “More concrete please,” “Does this look okay?” and “Can you pass me the shovel?” Sullivan also said that some team members used Spanish-English dictionaries to ask the families about their lives, even gesturing and acting things out if necessary.

“The adults were very welcoming and humble,” she said. “Each family only earns $100 to $250 a month, farming and selling their goods. The children must work on melon farms to help the family get income. All of the kids have had education up to the sixth grade, but none can continue on to secondary school.”

The family’s dependency on agriculture is a common problem in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. But the country has an established government that is able to support Global Brigades in its mission.

 “Honduras has a developing democratic government that works with many Global Brigade families through its microfinance program, which provides the families with loans, so that they can feel and understand the value of their home’s construction,” Sullivan said.

The team interacted with other villagers by holding a community workshop and discussing their construction project. During this time, the students also taught local children about geometry through laser-cut shapes created in Drexel’s URBN Center.

“The kids used fasteners and shapes that represented different parts of a face, and turned the shapes in different ways to represent emotions,” Sullivan explained. “The purpose was to teach kids basic geometry and show kids that everything around us is made up of shapes, including our faces.”

This was the first trip that Drexel’s Global Architecture Brigade had taken since Sullivan founded the club in 2012.

Each member had to raise funds to finance the trip. Sullivan coordinated a fundraiser with Insomnia Cookies, where she works as a marketing representative — the iconic cookie truck on 33rd and Market streets donated a proceed of its profit on a designated donation day.

The Drexel University Global Brigades group is a chapter of the Global Brigades student-led global health and sustainable development organization. The group hopes to schedule another Architecture Brigade trip during Drexel’s fall break in 2015 and is currently recruiting students. For more information on the group and its upcoming trips, visit the Drexel Global Medical Brigades Facebook page at or contact Sullivan at

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