Although the road to restoration presents difficulties, Haitians continue to rebuild their country and to seek to heal the wounds left by natural disasters.
Their progress is being monitored by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which is focused on recovery, reconstruction, and peacekeeping efforts. Among its members is the Salvadoran Contingent (SALCON), which is devoted to implementing humanitarian relief and health education projects.
SALCON was integrated into the Mechanized Infantry Company of the Chilean Armed Forces’ 25th Battalion, and works with that company on short- and long-range patrols, convoy escorts for humanitarian aid, and civic activities.
From the base located at Cap-Haïtien, Major Efraín Recinos, an infantry officer who commands the SALCON VIII contingent for MINUSTAH, manages his staff’s distribution of food and clothing from Cap-Haïtien to Gonaïves, a city that received the brunt of three hurricanes in the last two decades.
“In the country, there are still affected communities that need food, clothing, and blankets, and our troops organize the daily distribution of the aid. This is reinforced by general health education workshops to prevent the spread of diseases,” Maj. Recinos explained to Diálogo.
In the afternoons the Salvadoran soldiers go into the communities, where they come face-to-face with Haiti’s reality. Amid the shortages, they fill the needs of the citizens and help them to solve basic problems of poor health.
“This mission has enabled me to promote the habit of practicing preventive health measures among the people, in order to reduce the risk of contracting diseases”, Dr. Jessica Esmeralda Ramírez, a member of the medical team in the SALCON VIII contingent of MINUSTAH told Diálogo. “Doing community healthcare in contact with the civilian population fills me with satisfaction because I know that we are helping them lead a better life.”
Helping to help
The work that these soldiers do “remains an expression of our nation’s strong resolve to continue supporting and working with all international initiatives aimed at improving conditions of stability among states, as well as their citizens’ quality of life,” the Salvadoran defense minister, Brigadier General David Munguía Payés, stated during the sendoff for SALCON VIII who departed for Haiti from the 2nd Air Brigade’s military base.
Even if all the humanitarian aid and preventive health education disaster victims are receiving would solve some of their problems, psychological care would complement the support provided by this mission.
Dr. Karol Denisse Martínez, a psychologist, is part of the SALCON VIII contingent’s medical team. In her daily work, she must show empathy as she confronts the aftereffects of these disasters, such as insecurity around the lack of proper housing and the fear of helplessness.
“Every day we share our community mental health knowledge in simple activities with the people, such as listening to them tell their stories about what they have experienced. Through human warmth, we build supportive relationships with those who need assistance. It is a very gratifying endeavor because we are helping them grapple with their situation emotionally,” Dr. Martínez said.
Help without borders
From February 2013 to the present, the SALCON military has carried out 550 security, patrol, and aid actions to maintain a stable and secure environment.
The Salvadoran military has some 200 soldiers dispersed among MINUSTAH, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Force in Mali (MINUSMA).
In UNIFIL its contingents have conducted more than 5,000 actions from June 2008 to the present, notably in the form of motorized patrols, vehicle checks, observation posts, runway security, and medical care for the Lebanese people from the “Miguel de Cervantes” military base.
MINUSMA is made up of 90 Salvadoran soldiers and is the country’s largest contingent. This is the first time the country has independently taken part in a peacekeeping mission. Since April 2015, the group has conducted more than 3,500 assignments patrolling, transporting, doing convoy escorts, conducting air surveillance and reconnaissance, providing medical transport, and search- and-rescue and extraction missions.