May 24 2019

Executive MPH Students Help Rebuild a Community Post-Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017 and as the island languished, a group of Columbia Mailman School Executive MPH students in Health Policy & Management made plans to embark on a trip over Spring Break 2019 to give back as well as learn about the effects of the public health crisis there.

The group led by Fabiana Santiago and Maja Castillo conducted research to find an organization where they could make an impact. Through Exec-MHA alum Ricardo Rivera Cardona, they connected with the Asociación Recreativa y Educativa Comunal del Barrio Mariana (ARECMA) in Humacao -- a region hit hardest by Hurricane Maria-- and quickly learned that ARECMA is a perfect example of what a community can do when it works together.
Immediately post-Maria, ARECMA used their communal kitchen to feed the entire area.  To make sure they would never go through another Maria without being prepared, they installed a solar powered grid that can be easily dismantled and stored in a hurricane, expanded the communal kitchen and organic community garden, installed a laundry center that runs on recycled water and are working on large-scale rainwater collection systems. Their goal is to be self-sustaining when -- not if -- future disasters happen.  They also created a community action plan with volunteers who are responsible for groups of houses in a future disaster.

Healthcare also came up as a major need.  The students went to ARECMA with the goal of helping them create a space for a medical clinic and provide medical supplies using donations secured from their workplaces or with their own donated money and supplies.  In addition to helping design and set up the clinic they conducted home visits to assess the needs of homebound patients.  

The students continue to communicate and work with ARECMA.