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Helping Residents Heal after Hurricane Maria

Paola Maysonet

August 20, 2018

While learning about Paola Maysonet, it is easy to forget that she has only just begun making an impact on the public health profession. She is humble, hardworking, and incredibly ambitious. Maysonet is a Community Health and Prevention MPH '19 student at the Dornsife School of Public Health. Her drive to create healthier communities and facilitate social change has deep roots. Paola was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States at the young age of two. For her, the fight to expose health disparities and inequities is a fight for her culture, family, and her first home.

Attending graduate school at Dornsife appealed to her because of the diversity, but also because her family lived in the Greater Philadelphia area for six years before moving to West Virginia so it was familiar. The Integrated Learning Experience (ILE) depth experience at Dornsife enabled Maysonet to access and conduct significant research that could serve the Latino community.

At Philadelphia Prevention Partnership, a coalition committed to developing relationships across diverse Latino communities, Maysonet created a culturally-sensitive interview guide to assess how Philadelphia-based organizations serve Puerto Rican evacuees displaced by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The guide collects data on the evacuees perceived challenges, successes, and further needs. Once the interviews are complete, her findings will be disseminated to relevant stakeholders to understand the city's approach in reaching and serving this population. Ultimately, this guide can shape the way cities prepare and accommodate those who are forced from their homes due to devastating events.

In addition to her ILE depth experience, Maysonet recently took part in a student service trip to the island organized by the Latino Partnership Institute, a program within the Philadelphia Prevention Partnership. They cleaned storm debris and rebuilt a local school in Barranquitas. "Barranquitas is one of the poorest pueblos in Puerto Rico, where 72 percent of children are stratified to be living in poverty," said Maysonet. Before the trip, she helped to collect back-to-school materials for the community's children. Thanks, in part, to their efforts, the children of Barranquitas are scheduled to begin school on time.

In the future, Maysonet hopes to stay in Philadelphia and work in the Latino community. "Especially after everything that happened and the huge strain on our culture, Puerto Ricans are scared for the future," said Maysonet. "It's the Puerto Ricans living on the mainland's responsibility to continue to fight for our rights as American citizens."