By Maj. Tristan Hinderliter, MINUSTAH Military Public Information Office
Editor’s Note: On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight female peacekeepers who are part of the military component of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – As a young doctor in 1994 who had just joined the Argentinian Air Force as an officer, Norma Arnoletto went to Mozambique, Africa, on a peacekeeping mission where she treated locals in a country that had been ravaged by a long-running civil war.
While working on the staff for United Nations Operations in Mozambique, known as UNOMOZ, she had the opportunity to get to know and to help many of the orphaned children who lived around the Argentinian Field Hospital there.
Twenty-two years later she would begin her second U.N. peacekeeping mission, this time as a lieutenant colonel and the medical director of the Argentinian Field Hospital, part of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH. She became the first female to hold that position in the mission, having already earned the distinction of serving as the first female medical director in her country’s air force.
“It is an honor and a big responsibility,” Arnoletto said. As the medical director, she coordinates all the work for a hospital with 67 personnel, in addition to seeing patients herself. Her medical specialties are gynecology and diagnostic imaging, which includes ultrasound and radiology at the field hospital here.
“The patients are from many countries, speak many different languages and have different cultures,” she said. “I like that every day here is different. It may start off quiet, then get very busy.”
She recalled one day in late November 2016 when there was a fire at the Brazilian Battalion facilities at Jaborandy Camp – nearby the hospital – and 27 soldiers were brought in at once. Fortunately there were only minor injuries, and the soldiers were treated and released.
Arnoletto and her staff must also be responsive to medical emergencies that may happen at any time of day or night, including patients from contingents who may come in on medical evacuation flights from other parts of Haiti.
“We are alert all day, all the days,” she said.
Another memorable experience for Arnoletto was when the hospital organized a Christmas event for disabled children at a local orphanage. “The experience in the orphanage was great,” she said. “In this mission, more important than the professional experience is the personal experience. The visit to the orphanage was an important experience for me and for all the team.”
Reflecting on issues of gender equality in the mission, the doctor said she sees men and women treated equally. “There is a good relationship between men and women,” she said. “We don’t have any difference between them when it comes to work.”
For example, after Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti in October 2016, the hospital sent a 20-person team – ten men and ten women – to Jeremie, a city on the southern peninsula, to provide humanitarian relief. They slept in the same tent, shared the same bathroom, and saw the same patients. They cooked, cleaned and provided security together.
The experience on this deployment has been very positive, Arnoletto said. “Every day is unique here, because you can walk on the streets, you can see, you can share with the people,” she said. “I think I learn something every day about Haiti and the culture.”
Dr. (Lt. Col.) Norma Arnoletto, medical director at MINUSTAH’s Argentinian Field Hospital, takes a photo with two Haitian children. Arnoletto is the first female medical director in the mission.
Dr. Arnoletto and her staff take a photo outside the Argentinian Field Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.