Akemi Matsumoto interns with La Victoria Lab to send behavioral activation prompts to citizens after natural disasters
Akemi with her friends and coworkers in Lima

Reaching out after natural disasters

Akemi Matsumoto, a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, explored phone-based programs for providing mental health to survivors of natural disasters. “The first prototype utilizes SMS messages to send behavioral activation prompts and requests a response from the addressee,” Akemi explains. “The second prototype utilizes WhatsApp to implement narrative therapy as it requests victims to share and rethink their testimony though voice messages.”

In-country training

As part of her internship, Akemi and her team received training in design thinking under the guidance of the directors of Segundos Auxilios, a support team for operations, and psychologists. The project required a combination of soft and hard skills for designing, implementing and evaluating the prototypes. “My work on the sms prototype proved to be very successful, but the WhatsApp prototype needs more reiteration,” Akemi shares. “I want to run deeper analysis to improve both programs for post-disaster mental health.” 

I really appreciate MISTI and their confidence in me. This was a life changing experience.


Akemi found her host country to be both welcoming and safe. “Peruvians are very friendly,” she says. “They love their country and are eager to show you around.” In Akemi’s town of Lima, she noticed that the coastline had a great effect on the local culture. “Neighborhoods are very different from one another, some are historical and other contemporary, some gentrified and others very poor,” she explains. “It is interesting to witness how this diversity is connected to the coastline. My commute to work brought me from the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco to the popular area of La Victoria.”

New perspectives on global warming 

Before travelling to Peru, Akemi knew that global warming is exacerbating natural phenomena and turning them into natural disasters. “After my experience in Peru,” she explains, “I can see the problem with an international and multidisciplinary perspective.” Akemi and her coworkers plan to continue to work on the Segundos Auxilios program for survivors of natural disasters. They are applying to different sources of funding to continue the project.

  • Peru
  • Internship
  • Arch & Planning