February 3: Notes from Haiti’s Disaster Zone

3rd February
2010
written by Laura
Major Kelly Ponstler holds the newest baby girl born in The Salvation Army clinic in Haiti.Major Kelly Pontsler holds the newest baby girl born in The Salvation Army clinic in Haiti.

Major Kelly Pontsler, Public Information Officer for the Haiti Incident Command Team, delivered another updated, personal account of The Salvation Army’s ongoing aid efforts yesterday in the Port-au-Prince area that included new workers transitioning in and the arrival of a newborn girl!

Major Pontsler described part of her job focus as consolidating key information, such as contacts, resources, and many other details, since the urgency in the time immediately following the disaster required a lot of “shooting from the hip.” As personnel leave or move about in Haiti, her efforts will help prevent important information from being lost in the shuffle and centralize it for all those continuing to work over the long term.

With internal and external communication still being difficult in Haiti due to the damaged infrastructure and other unmet needs, even simple emails from Salvation Army officers such as Major Pontsler provide a unique, intimate look into the relief work and state of Haiti (rather than the broad stories run on every news network) that we would not otherwise have.

Below are excerpts of her most recent correspondence:

“ These have been two very busy days.  Yesterday we saw the arrival of five new people – and the departure of three of the medical doctors.  I must say, the doctors did truly amazing service for two weeks!  Major (Dr) Cindy Lou Drummond, Col. (Dr) Herb Rader and Dr Steve Fischer are truly missed.  They have been in the ‘war zone’….landing in so quickly after the earthquake to treat people with all kinds of ailments and physical conditions.  They certainly have the respect of this command team!

But change is change – so it has been a day for getting the new people up to speed, perhaps more sitting and waiting than they were hoping for on the first day.  But a day to transition in is good – they will all hit the ground running tomorrow…”

“I had a chance for a quick walk through the camp which sits adjacent to the current Division Headquarters (DHQ) property, for which we are responsible.  About 3100 families reside there, in conditions that are difficult to describe.  The spaces are small, the clusters of people very dense, throw in the smells of cooking food, poor sanitation and humanity in general, and mix it together with heat and humidity…and you have just a hint of the reality.

There really is no room for tents in there.  These are more like what we’ve probably call lean-to dwellings.  We are still waiting for proper toilets to get installed – but they were able to arrange for some showers.  Mind you, a few blocks of showers and toilets don’t go far when there are some 16,000+ people in the camp.  I read today that Port au Prince (PAP) will need at least 7,000 toilets to begin to deal with the sanitation and reduce the risk of disease.  That’s a lot of toilets!  And I think for the first go around we are getting help to set up something like a dozen.  It is going to take some time.

“The highlight of the day was saying hello to newborn #5 at the Army clinic here.  A little baby girl made her way into the world about 8 am this morning, in the compound outside the clinic.  Her mom and family are now living in the camp.  But she is a gorgeous little baby.  She didn’t have a name yet when I went to visit, but her mom gave us permission to take a photo.”

Major Pontsler also said DHQ was damaged beyond repair and is renting offices in a building where the Incident Command office has also been moved. Despite these setbacks, she reports, “The ministry of the Haiti Division has not stopped.”

She closes with an important request. If you’ve been wondering how you can support our workers in the field, this one’s for you:

“Your prayers and thoughts for everyone serving here are much appreciated!  The Salvation Army is serving phenomenally well – and we sense God’s hand every day.  Please pray for good health for the team, for quick assimilation of the newest team members…. and for wisdom for the command leadership, as they start to think further done the road now.”

For more information on what The Salvation Army is doing in Haiti, visit our  Haiti website at www.salvationarmyhaiti.org.

You can also stay updated on our efforts by visiting our national website at www.salvationarmyusa.org or following us on  Facebook and Twitter.

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