A working group of students, faculty, and staff have been working for about a year and a half to respond to the destruction in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The Puerto Rico IPE Service Learning Trip will allow students to translate Columbia University’s mission of forming students with critical minds, global thinking, and sense of responsibility to the communities, into action. Not only does this trip provide an opportunity to translate classroom-based knowledge into community-centered service, it will give students the space to reflect on what it truly means to deliver responsible and community-empowered solutions to our most dire populations. The Puerto Rico IPE Service-Learning Trip will be making its maiden voyage this year during Spring Break. We were able to ask them more about this trip before they went. ODCI spoke with Office of Field Practice Director Ana Jimenez-Bautista and students Jessica Pan, Daniel Alicea, Noel Conley, Jasmine Sibai, Lizbeth Gomez, Antonio Castillo-Papaleo, Therese Buendia, and Jaime Betancourt.
This is the pilot year for the program, could you tell us about the Puerto Rico IPE Service-Learning Trip and how the trip came to be?
JP: More than one year has passed since Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria struck to cause immeasurable destruction in Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Ricans still face an array of structural adversities such as food and water insecurity, housing instability, lack of adequate roads to connect towns, and the shortage of functionating hospitals and schools. These adversities have contributed to increased exposure to infectious diseases, as well as health and mental health problems.
AJB: With the full support of Associate Dean Linda Cushman, Vice Dean Julie Kornfeld, and Dean Marlyn Delva, the working group proposed to use the established connections for the new CEPH requirements of interprofessional education and service learning. This proposal was accepted, and basic resources were allocated from all 3 offices they lead in order to spearhead the project.
JP: Fourteen students will be traveling to Puerto Rico through this program, in order to implement the data-collecting phase of a health needs assessment sought by our community partner, Proyecto ENLACE, in Puerto Rico. This trip to Puerto will be a key step in developing a long-term, sustained, engagement with Puerto Rican partners to support the health improvement of the most vulnerable populations in San Juan de Puerto Rico.
Can you tell us about the trip’s goals?
JP: Fourteen students with various backgrounds and expertise were selected to participate in this service-learning project that will take place from March 16th through March 23rd, 2019. We will be able to implement an interprofessional education and service learning curriculum/community research study. The research study will examine the burden of childhood asthma in low-resource communities of El Caño Martin Peña, as well as the potential burden of environmental and stress triggers of asthmatic children in the community. The final report, a presentation, and educational materials will be given to ENLACE, community members of El Caño Martin Peña, and interested students, faculty, and staff at CUMC and other CU campuses.
How did you become involved with the trip?
AJB: I answered the initial call from Dean Fried to create Mailman responses to support PR recover from the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria… I was so fortunate to meet up with amazing colleagues to form a working group to explore ways we could develop ongoing, community-based engagement. AD Cushman supported our time investment and a trip to PR in June 2018, in order to further contact exploration/development. We met with several organizations and universities and decided to work with ENLACE right after meeting them for the first time.
DA: After receiving information about the project from my director of the Nutrition program, I applied for the program because I was not aware of the public health crisis that was occurring after Hurricanes Maria and Irma. However, I understood its importance in improving the health outcomes of the pediatric population who is suffering from asthma.
NC: I received an invitation to apply as a fellow through my department. Being passionate about this type of community health work and having an interest in the subjects of the project itself, I applied for a fellowship spot and was very excited to receive (and accept) an offer.
JS: I became involved in the trip’s mission because I have family living in Puerto Rico that experienced first-hand the public health emergencies that transformed the lives of everyone living on the island of Puerto Rico. I wanted to use the research skills that I learned from the Mailman School of Public Health in a real-world setting in partnership with ENLACE to help strengthen the community while also looking for ways to improve the quality of life for the Puerto Ricans with regards to the environment and the burden of childhood asthma.
LG: I became involved because I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and I have lived first hand, the effects of a natural disaster in the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. For a long time I had wanted to get involved in helping the relief efforts in PR and this project was perfectly timed for me.
ACP: Coming into Columbia Mailman one of my goals was to make the connections necessary to one day return to Puerto Rico with a plan to improve the healthcare system. As I met with professors and advisors and shared my long term goals, I was informed of the Puerto Rico Pilot Program. I saw it as a good chance to stay connected to my island and contribute to sustainable change in Puerto Rico. My motto is “Charity Starts at Home”
JB: I was invited to apply as a doctoral nursing student to provide collaboration and insight into some of the healthcare needs of the community as we developed the process and moved forward with outlining the study.
What excitements you the most about the upcoming trip? Do you have any reservations?
DA: Because it has been 17 years since I have visited my home country, I am excited to revive the cultures and traditions that I did not have the chance to become exposed too. Since it is my first time being exposed to community-based research, I look forward to interacting with the community in the hope of fostering a long-lasting relationship. In terms of reservations, because we are entering a safe space, I worry that there will be challenges in terms of fostering a relationship with the community.
JS: While I’m in the Research Subcommittee and won’t be traveling, I’m excited to see that my contributions in the Research Subcommittee will be utilized by the interprofessional team to survey the G8 community. I’m looking forward to analyzing the data collected while I work stateside at Columbia University in New York City. My only reservation is that the Puerto Ricans may be hesitant to partake in the study because they have already faced so much adversity and have existing reservations from anyone coming from the mainland to Puerto Rico because of the horrendous treatment post-hurricane Irma and post-Hurricane Maria. I have high hopes that Columbia University and ENLACE will collectively answer the Puerto Ricans call for action by bringing a form of direct public health justice.
ACP: What excites me the most is the opportunity to interact with a community that I would otherwise not have been able to live in Puerto Rico and an opportunity to learn more of the disparities that exist in Puerto Rico. My only reservations are that I want to be sure that the studies being done will be put towards a lasting intervention.
JP: I’m most excited about returning back to Puerto Rico as I witnessed the large unmet needs the community still faces and having the opportunity to work alongside community leaders to serve the Puerto Rican communities.
TB: I am looking forward to finally meeting our partners in Puerto Rico in-person and learning as much as I can. My main reservation would probably be not having enough time to do everything we hope to accomplish. However, I’m excited to hit the ground running!
JB: I am excited at a chance to give back to my family home. I grew up here in the USA but have always had strong family and cultural ties to PR and have been really saddened by the lack of government response both to the economic situation and the hurricanes. I feel like this is a chance for me to help in some small way to a community that has always been close to my heart.
How can Mailman Students who will not be a part of this trip help this effort?
TB: We currently have a crowdfunding page set up at crowdfund.columbia.edu and we’re less than $3000 away from hitting our $10k goal. All donations, big or small, are extremely helpful.