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By Jillian Lynes

Engelking is the press officer of International Communication for Immediate Relief Actions for the German relief organization, Malteser International. Malteser International is a Catholic nongovernmental organization based on the existing global structures of Malteser Germany and the former Emergency Corps Order of Malta (ECOM).

Malteser International is in Baton Rouge right now to offer relief, and it has been there since the first week after Katrina. Engelking writes the “Relief Activity Reports” for Malteser’s networks and headquarters in Germany, and is responsible for all communications, especially all press contacts, and the documentation of activities.

Currently, Engelking said, Malteser is working “on medium and long-term planning to help the displaced people in the area and raise funds from international sources.” It has been working with other organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services from Baltimore and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).

Immediately after Katrina, the once quaint and historical streets of Baton Rouge were filled with thousands of displaced people searching for somewhere to stay. Engelking reported that recently 5,000 people were able to find a temporary home at the Baton Rouge Convention Center, but about 300 people still fill the shelters that line the streets, and all of them need to be supplied with food, clothing, and psychological support. “Clergy and psychologists from all over the country are visiting the shelters,” Engelking reports, “to offer their support.” Some helpers, she added are “from New Orleans themselves. [Others] drove down here to help.”

Engelking and other Malteser workers are trying to organize the supply of food and clothing to all of the shelters. Their task was complicated, she reports, because new shelters pop up all the time, and the lost and displaced people don’t know where they should go.

“ Yesterday,” Engelking said, “a woman came to the office here at the Catholic Community Center looking for her family. She had been driving around for a week with no place to go. She was able to fill out an application for housing here in Baton Rouge and receive help.”

Many people have been seeking help at the Catholic Community Center, which is where Malteser chiefly operates. They are there daily trying to locate their families or trying to find a place to go.
“ Many are scared that they will never be able to return to their houses,” Engelking said. “Many people are very poor and have lost everything they had without any perspective for the future.”
The poor areas of New Orleans have been destroyed, washed out, and flooded. Areas that are close to the Mississippi Delta, such as Slidell and Covington, are filled with stranded boats on land and ruined houses. A large spill of chemicals and oil poisoned the waters and land in those areas. Engelking and her team are working constantly to identify lost people and pop-up shelters, while struggling with the need for funds to feed, clothe, and shelter them.

Engelking’s description of women looking for their children captures the pathos of the place and time: “Many mothers are looking for their babies,” she recounts, “and many elderly are in a state of shock, because they have no place to go. The larger shelters don’t offer any private space, and over time, it will be extremely hard to have so many people stay at those locations. We are trying to work within our network of nongovernmental organizations to help these people.”

Disaster experts (who have had plenty of experience with Florida hurricanes) have suggested not relying solely on the government and FEMA to fix everything. The focus instead, Engelking said, should be to, “organize a network that will look at long-term planning to enable the displaced people to return to their homes and help them fix [those areas].”


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