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Meet the changemaker: A mental health care worker who is helping Puerto Rico heal (1572 hits)


The aftermath of a natural disaster causes disruption to every part of a community’s well-being, from physical infrastructure and economic growth, to social and mental health. The issues addressed urgently following these emergencies are often the most visible: lack of food and water, obvious hazardous conditions, and the immediate needs of survivors. However, a quieter and consequential issue that can be unintentionally overlooked is mental health.

Through the work of Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) member Americares, health care workers like Geitel and other first responders are being trained and supported on how to respond to trauma and address their own struggles. Americares has trained over 6,000 people so far, well above their initial goal of 5,000.

Another CGI member, the International Medical Corps, has committed to train 250 additional health workers to provide psychological and psychosocial support to adolescents and elders. The International Medical Corps has been working to raise awareness about mental health, and the services available to assist with mental health needs.

Read more to learn about the impact of these two commitments.

Turning trauma into hope
By Geitel, Suicide Prevention Protocol Program Manager, Municipio de Hormigueros

There are days that change the course of your life forever. For me, it’s September 20, 2017 — the day Hurricane Maria made landfall on my native island of Puerto Rico. The deadly storm flattened homes, destroyed roads and cut power to the entire island, leaving more than 3.3 million people in the dark. The feeling of uncertainty was palpable everywhere you went. It seemed like we were completely shut off from the world.

When I returned to work on September 21, it was all hands on deck. The storm had damaged the phone lines at Emergencias Médicas, but we had one satellite phone available for people to make calls. Residents lined up outside of our offices day and night to use the phone, hoping to get word to family members that they were safe. I remember one woman asking us to call her family in Spain. When we connected her, she let her family know that she has made it through the storm, but what she said next hit me like a punch to the stomach. Her husband had passed away that morning. She hung up the phone and immediately collapsed into my colleague’s arms. I just hugged her — at that moment it was all we could do.

Very quickly the double burden of supporting survivors — while being survivors ourselves — began to take its toll. We worked day and night even though many of us were personally dealing with damage and loss at home.

Then, I participated in a Psychological First Aid workshop delivered by Americares. Not only did I learn how to better identify, assess, and respond to the needs of others in times of crisis, it was also the first time that many felt comfortable sharing their experience after the storm. In our line of work, we focus on helping those in need. Americares taught us that we are important too, that we need to think about our own health and well-being in order to help others recover.

On the ground in Puerto Rico
International Medical Corps (IMC) has been on the ground in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck. Initially working to help healthcare centers remain open, IMC is now focusing on the long-term recovery needs.

Watch the video below to hear how they’re focusing on mental health and building greater resilience in communities.


The Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery is committed to developing and implementing comprehensive plans for successful recovery in places devastated by natural disasters. At the most recent meeting in the United States Virgin Islands, the action network announced 29 new projects for resiliency and disaster recovery. Since the launch of the action network last year, 775 organizations have made 86 Commitments to Action and convened four meetings.


Photo: REUTERS/CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINShoto

Read more about the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network in our Impact Magazine at clintonfoundation.org/peoplefirst.


https://stories.clintonfoundation.org/@ClintonFdn
Posted By: Elynor Moss
Monday, July 1st 2019 at 5:08PM
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