El Salvador’s Armed Forces, U.S. SOUTHCOM Provide Humanitarian Assistance to Rural Communities
By Dialogo October 08, 2015
The Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) are cooperating to deliver free, specialized humanitarian assistance to the Central American country’s poorest rural communities, which have limited access to basic services such as water, electricity, and medical care.
“The two countries’ Armies are united in helping the people most in need, either because they live far away from these services or because they cannot pay for them,” said Colonel Nelson Ramírez, a representative of FAES Military Detachment 6 and medical care coordinator in the department of La Unión. “This work is yet another example of our ties of fraternity and brotherhood with these communities.”
That work began in January, when the FAES launched the program through its Military Health Battalion (BSM) and Central Military Hospital (HMC), with 400 rotating personnel, including Soldiers, doctors, and paramedics. According to U.S. Army Colonel Robert A. Wagner, Chief of the Office of Security Cooperation in El Salvador, "SOUTHCOM's contribution is minimal as compared to the FAES efforts to include and collaborate within the Government of El Salvador inter-agency and several local non-governmental organizations. Among the agencies supporting FAES military medical civic action include the Salvadoran Ministry of Health, the Civilian National Police, and the local mayorships."
A wide array of healthcare services
Between January and August, Troops from both countries conducted 29 medical campaigns, offering a wide variety of services, including dentistry, gynecology, psychology, general medicine, and pediatrics to 20,000 low-income residents, including those with disabilities, nationwide.
"This is an example of the type of effort that is needed to ensure that communities that are facing serious challenges in El Salvador receive the care and attention that they need," said U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte.
One of the most recent exercises occurred on August 31 at the Bella Vista Colonia School in the municipality of Conchagua in the department of La Unión, when 3,000 people showed up, beginning in the early morning hours, to receive benefits.
“I came at 4 a.m. to get in line to receive care, and be among the first to receive a consultation with the military,” said Luisa Bonilla, a 75-year-old housewife and resident of the village of El Ciprés in Conchagua. “They treated me like a queen. They gave me all of the medications I needed to control my blood pressure and I’m leaving a happy woman. I wish they were always here.”
Meanwhile, María Rosario Pérez, a 64-year-old housewife, walked with her grandchildren from the village of Buena Vista, roughly three kilometers from the school, for medical care.
“I got up very early and prepared my six grandchildren to come, because they all have skin problems: a fungus on the soles of their feet that has never gone away,” she said. “We walked here, we waited in line and they explained to us how we should apply the medication. We’re leaving very happy.”
Gratitude for the program
La Unión Governor Cricia Hernández expressed her gratitude to SOUTHCOM, which mobilized a specialized hospital team and distributed medicines for a variety of ailments, for joining with the Salvadoran Military: “We are very grateful to the United States Southern Command for providing this support to the community, because they have mobilized a significant amount of resources so that everyone can receive quality medicines.”
Medical personnel did more than provide treatment and medicine – they also conducted specialized lectures describing to civilians how they could prevent risks associated with natural disasters, such as flooding, which can create landslides. The physicians also provided instruction on preventing vector-borne diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya.
“It’s a big help to have specialists come to guide people on how to protect our families from common diseases such as dengue, which can be deadly without the proper care.”