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The Center for Refugee and Disaster Relief


Student Field Experience

For more information about the MPH Field Experience Award Fund and recipients of the awards from previous years, click here.

Practicum 2013 - Guatemala Earthquake

Birch BarronBirch Barron, an MSPH candidate is doing a practicum during the summer in Guatemala. He has joined a team of Mercy Corps working on a project to assist in building emergency shelters and strengthen food security for people affected by the diaster.

This project is an 8-month long effort to stabilize the areas most affected by the earthquake in northwestern Guatemala in November of 2012. The program will reach 1,200 households in the departments of Quetzaltenango and San Marcos. Intervention activities consist of shelter construction, rebuilding damaged homes, food aid, gender equity education, and disaster risk reduction efforts. Birch will support the program manager from June, 2013 until project end in September, 2013.

The Emergency Shelter and Food Security for Populations Affected by the 2012 Guatemala Earthquake program is a Mercy Corps activity made possible by funding from the European Union and the United Nations.

On November 7th, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the northwestern region of Guatemala. Already vulnerable from weak construction, high levels of poverty, and malnutrition, the population in the departments of San Marcos and Quetzaltenango suffered the greatest levels of destruction. Mercy Corps Guatemala, already working in the affected area since 2008, was quick to seek funds to support the local population. Project support eventually came through three distinct sources. The bulk of this program is funded by the European Commission’s ECHO grant for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. Additional program support came from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme (WFP), both funded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) through CERF grants.

Mercy Corps has identified 1,200 distinct high-risk households (7,200 individuals) in the target area. These target households are identified and prioritized by documenting the extent of household damage and incorporating the presence of other health risk factors like poverty, family size, disability, and homes headed only by single mothers. Within these 1,200 households, the intervention has a number of unique project components, which are broken down easily by funding source.

The World Food Programme, funded by a U.N. CERF grant, provides $218,000 for the purchase and distribution of 315 metric tons of maize, black beans, rice, vegetables, corn-soy blend, and sugar. Food aid from the WFP will be delivered to all of the 1,200 target households. The food aid is anticipated to cover food needs in the Mercy Corps target households for three months.Birch Barron

The International Organization for Migration, also funded by a U.N. CERF grant, provides a total of $204,000. This funding will be used for two primary projects. The first IOM-supported project is the distribution of winter kits to the target families, ensuring that individuals with damaged homes have the clothes, blankets, and supplies necessary to weather the cold temperatures often found in these high altitudes. The second IOM-supported project provides for the purchase of cinder blocks, re-bar, concrete, and aluminum roofing for the repair of damaged homes. These supplies are not enough to rebuild an entire structure, and of the 1,200 target families, the 600 homes with the least structural damage have been selected to receive IOM repair materials.

The European Commission provides the most funding for this project, with over 500,000 Euros dedicated to the program in the form of an ECHO grant. Through this grant, the 600 homes with the greatest structural damage will receive temporary wood shelters to replace their damaged and destroyed homes. These shelters (called ATUs) are designed to meet SPHERE minimum standards and can house a family of six for up to five years. In addition to the construction of ATUs, the ECHO grant supports community gender equity education and the training local construction crews in disaster risk reduction.

EderlySyrian Refugees

The elderly are among the most severely affected by the Syrian refugee crisis, yet the specific needs of this vulnerable sub-population have received little attention from the humanitarian aid community.

To bring this issue to light, Jonathan Strong, a MPH student at JHSPH, partnered with the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC), a non-governmental organization that provides aid to Syrian refugees who have sought refuge in Lebanon to develop and implement a survey of over 200 elderly Syrian refugees registered with CLMC field offices throughout Lebanon. The survey assessed a broad range of issues affecting elderly refugees including nutrition, chronic diseases and disabilities, mental health, functional impairment, and care-giving for the elderly. To supplement this research,  numerous elderly refugees and staff from several aid organizations including UNHCR and Doctors Without Borders were interviewed.

Field workThe study identified numerous unmet needs of elderly refugees including inadequate nutrition, a high burden of chronic diseases, and a lack of access to medicare care. The results and recommendations of this study will be used to improve the services provided to elderly refugees by CLMC and other aid organizations throughout Lebanon.

PeruPeru Humanitarian Disaster Response Training

In January 2008, a team of MPH, PhD and undergraduate students and professors from JHSPH, Columbia University and Lehman College went to Peru to conduct a post-earthquake disaster assessment to assess the impacts of the earthquake that took place off the southern coast of Peru on August 15th, 2007. 

Humanitarian Public Health Training PeruWe trained local health workers to conduct household surveys and health facility assessments while we (the students) conducted residential damage assessments; this survey data coupled with GIS coordinates will be used to map and evaluate the effects of the earthquake as well as the relationships among spatial, environmental, and demographic characteristics that increase risk during disasters.


Estimating prevalence of labor trafficking among Burmese migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, Thailand:

In January 2008, Charlotte Dolenz and Dennis Brophy traveled to Samut Sakhon, a province on the gulf of Thailand just south of Bangkok, to participate in the first phase of a study to estimate the prevalence of labor trafficking among Burmese migrant workers working in the seafood processing industry in Samut Sakhon, Thailand.  The study is funded by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and is a joint initiative between the Johns Hopkins Center for Refugees and Disaster Response and the Labor Rights Promotion Network (LPN), a local NGO.  Working with Courtland Robinson, Charlotte and Dennis met with LPN staff and local community members to develop the study design and establish an initial understanding of migrant worker community issues in Samut Sakhon.  Their involvement with the project continues as they assist in the development of an IRB proposal and survey instruments.


Jordan Student Refugee Disaster Training Research

During the January 2008 winter intercession, Allen Andrews, Jennifer Leigh, Farah Bader, Neerav Goyal, and Rakhi Sinha traveled to Jordan to learn more about the health care needs and access of Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan. The group came together last summer, fueled by a common interest in the right to health and the challenge of guaranteeing that right for displaced populations.

As these MPH students investigated the situation in Jordan and the work being done by the few organizations on the ground, they came to understand that there were still significant knowledge gaps in the particular health care needs of this population, their ability to access services, and the quality of the services that were available. Dr. Shannon Doocy of the JHSPH Center for Refugees and Disaster Response (CRDR) helped the group collaborate with the new country director for the International Medical Corps (IMC) in Jordan. He was charged with developing IMC services for Iraqis in Jordan, amongst other programs, and was similarly interested in doing an assessment, specifically of the population IMC would be serving.

Jordan Student Refugee Disaster Training Research The student group worked with Dr. Doocy, the IMC staff, clinics of two NGOs serving displaced Iraqis in Amman, Jordan, and a team of Iraqi physician interviewers. Together, they developed and implemented a survey assessing health care needs, access to services, healthcare seeking behaviors, and quality of healthcare services. During their time in Jordan, they were able to help finalize the survey and design a database and data tracking system, as well as train the interviewers and facilitate implementation of the survey in seven NGO clinics. The students also used their time in country to conduct a number of key informant interviews, with clinic staff, health professionals in Jordan’s health system, and staff of other NGOs working with refugees, such as UNRWA and Premiere Urgence.

The experience provided the group with valuable insight into the larger context of social, political, religious, and economic tensions in Jordan and Iraq, as well as the individual situations of Iraqis displaced in Jordan, and the challenges faced by organizations trying to serve them. After returning, the students continue to engage with CRDR and IMC, to see what further insights can be gained from the survey data that will aid in serving this population directly, or advocating on their behalf.

Jordan Student Refugee Disaster Training Research

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