Harmonizing Holistic Health & Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico

Project Sponsor: Apoyo Mutuo Agrícola, Jessica Santos and Martín Cobian
Team Members: Ian Cody, Mya Darrow, Katelyn Lunny, Naomi Treto
Project Advisors: Dr. Grant Burrier, Dr. Scott Jiusto

Project Files:



Solidarity helps Puerto Rico survive natural disasters as federal neglect and failed government response too often leave them unprepared for emergencies. This credo applies to Apoyo Mutuo Agrícola (AMA), who helps small farmers by focusing on holistic health and emergency preparedness, while uniting rural and urban communities. We partnered with AMA to support this mission by improving disaster-relief and strengthening AMA’s network. Using archival research, semi-structured interviews, ethnographies, and mapping, we created a community-based emergency plan, an AMA website, and identified funding opportunities. From collaborating with AMA and their allies, we found a need for documenting emergency plans to increase clarity and efficiency in disaster response. Additionally, we witnessed how gentrification and corruption are prevalent and disruptive, yet communities are resilient and not backing down.

Executive Summary


Mutual aid is necessary for communities in Puerto Rico to survive natural disasters as federal neglect and government failures have left communities unprepared for emergencies. The archipelago is susceptible to hurricanes, drought, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis, all of which will intensify or become more frequent due to climate change (Diaz et al. 2022). The federal government responds to these disasters slower and with fewer resources relative to disasters on the mainland. Government failures in Puerto Rico stem from a history of colonialism. Path-dependent policies have not only left Puerto Rico unprepared for disasters, but also led to industrialization of agriculture and gentrification in urban communities.

Our sponsor, Apoyo Mutuo Agrícola (AMA), is a mutual aid group that helps small farmers and urban communities survive these challenges by focusing on holistic health. AMA defines key aspects of holistic health to be consumption of foods grown with agroecological practices, use of medicinal plants, and participation in auricular acupuncture. AMA also provides emergency relief resources and serves as a link between community organizations. Providing support simultaneously in urban and rural communities is a unique aspect of AMA which allows them to connect a larger number of mutual aid groups. We partnered with AMA to create an emergency plan, with a focus on holistic health and connecting urban and rural areas. Through our collaboration with AMA and their allies, we found a need for documenting emergency plans to increase clarity and efficiency in disaster response.

Figure 1 The WPI team collaborating with Martín Cobian and Jessica Santos, the founders of AMA

Objectives and Methods

The mission of our project was to help AMA achieve their goal of supporting small farmers and urban communities by completing the following objectives:

  1. Strengthen AMA’s network for times of emergency by creating an emergency plan.
  2. Organize and represent information for allies and community members by developing a website.
  3. Identify methods for AMA to increase inventory of supplies after disasters by developing a funding narrative.

Figure 2 “For Sale” sign on one of the buildings in Río Piedras, contrasting with the astronaut artwork in the background (Photo by Grant Burrier)

The methods used to achieve these objectives were archival research, semi-structured interviews, ethnographies, and mapping. We also participated in brigades hosted by AMA’s allies, which allowed us to contribute physically in community efforts and build stronger connections. This multi-method approach increased our project’s robustness, as it allowed us to triangulate our findings from each method.



We have made several key findings regarding the emergency plan, gentrification, corruption, and community resilience.

Our interviews revealed that gentrification, corruption, and poor government disaster relief are prevalent issues in Puerto Rico, resulting in distrust of the government and forcing communities to rely on one another during times of emergency. Many organizations and farmers communicated that they did not have an existing emergency plan for disasters. All interviewees expressed their interest in a documented emergency plan, knowing that it could strengthen emergency preparedness.

When speaking with various organizations, we heard many issues of insufficient community-focused development. Corruption, gentrification, monoculture, and machismo impact lives and the ability to recover following emergencies. Though such issues remain prevalent and disruptive, AMA and allies illustrated their resilience by fighting back. These community groups stand for their right to a good quality of life by resisting the unfavorable policies working against them.


Figure 3 Mural in Río Piedras paid for by the municipality to distract from the abandoned building it covers


Our team produced three deliverables to reflect the project objectives. The first deliverable was the AMA Emergency Plan as AMA did not have a well-developed, nor documented emergency plan. Three emergency plans were created: AMA Internal Emergency Plan, AMA Rural Emergency Plan, and AMA Urban Emergency Plan. These emergency plans contain the following resources:

  • AMA Yearly Emergency Preparedness Plan
  • AMA Emergency Preparedness Checklist 2024
  • Medicinal Plant Workbook
  • Community Census
  • Emergency Quick Tips Sheet
  • Farmer’s Technical Sheet
  • Inventory System
  • Workshop Planning System
  • Mapping System
  • Volunteer Management System
  • Ally Alert System
  • Rapid Response System

Figure 4 Cover page of AMA Internal Emergency Plan

For AMA’s internal plan, we developed a Yearly Emergency Preparedness Plan for AMA’s monthly meetings. As this plan was completed in May, we also developed an AMA Emergency Preparedness Checklist 2024 that is focused on helping AMA start preparations in the next few months, before the height of the hurricane season begins in late summer/early fall. The Medicinal Plant Workbook provides information on plant growing details, benefits, and usages, as incorporating holistic health was a key aspect to the emergency plans.

The Community Census Form was designed for AMA to distribute to community residents to collect information for prioritization of community needs in times of emergency. The Emergency Quick Tips Sheet provides easily accessible information regarding emergency preparedness, directing community members to resources. The Farmer’s Technical Sheet outlines information on the calculation of losses, animal preparation, food conservation, drought resources, and compilation of important documents.

The Inventory System was developed for AMA and allies to keep track of ally resources in times of emergency. The Workshop System was created to ensure allies and community members’ skills are up to date. The Mapping System was made to identify ally resources and locations quickly. The Ally Alert System and Volunteer Management System were developed to send a mass email to allies and volunteers in case of an emergency. The Rapid Response System was developed to quickly gain information on community members and farmers following an emergency.

We viewed holistic health as the most distinguishing feature of AMA’s emergency plan. Other factors included the vulnerabilities of communities and considerations of the unreliable electricity in Puerto Rico into our emergency plan.

The second deliverable we created for AMA was a draft website. The website includes Welcome, Community Mapping, Allies, News, and Contact pages.  The Welcome page offers an introduction to AMA, their members, and their projects. The Community Mapping page includes links to the maps developed with our mapping system for community members to visualize resource distribution in Río Piedras and Lares. The Allies page gives an overview of AMA’s allies, their resources, and contact information. The News page provides links to news articles and social media pages relevant to community members. The Contact page utilizes a Google Form to connect website users to AMA members. Together, the five pages organize and represent information about AMA and allies for community members to access.

The third deliverable we created for AMA was a compilation of funding resources that included the following:

  • Funding Narrative
  • List of Discount and Donation Opportunities
  • List of Available Grants

The funding narrative can aid AMA in writing grant applications or donation requests. To complement this narrative, the team compiled a list of relevant companies which donate or discount products for non-profits, and list of agricultural grants available to non-profits in Puerto Rico.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Alongside AMA, the ally organizations are working to strengthen their network to continue the path of resilience. The remnants and presence of colonialism in Puerto Rico has demonstrated the need for these groups to join forces in an emergency plan. Through our time in Puerto Rico, we have only scratched the surface of the struggles Puerto Ricans face every day, but we readily recognize the necessity and importance of community-based organizations.

The limitations our team has faced were limited time, travel restrictions, and the ongoing displacement of Paseo 13, a local ally that supported our work. Our recommendations for future projects with AMA are further collaborations with Paseo 13, integration of plan elements on the AMA website, and development of an ecosystem outside of Puerto Rico. Our recommendations for the Global Experience Office are to reduce barriers regarding travel and to provide housing for WPI students closer to their sponsor’s location.

Our team has gained invaluable experiences, research skills, and unique lessons. Puerto Rico is beautiful and resilient, despite it being a modern colony. This project has left us with newfound lessons and reignited passions, and we would love to return to Puerto Rico and are so appreciative of how dedicated our liaisons were in collaborating on the project.