8 things I learned as a peacekeeper during COVID-19

Mar 5, 2021

Serving as a UN peacekeeper during COVID-19 has undoubtedly been challenging, as the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in fragile conflict and post-conflict settings. And yet, amidst this period of global uncertainty and adjustment, our civilian, military and police peacekeepers have worked resiliently to support local authorities in the COVID-19 response, as well as shown great adaptability to continue their mandate implementation.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we challenged our women peacekeepers to reflect on eight overarching lessons that they’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what they shared:

1. THIS IS A SERIOUS MATTER

“Deadly infections can be as harmful to humankind as war and conflict. We should be prepared to defeat any pandemic for our future generations.” — Assist. sub-inspector Ayesha Akter, Bangladeshi UN Police Officer/MONUSCO

“There are still many people who do not believe in the existence of the virus. Negligence or non-respect of preventive measures can have harmful repercussions on peacekeeping operations.” — Agbezo Abra, Togolese Police Lieutenant/MINUSMA

“I really hope that the issue of some countries hoarding the vaccine is quickly resolved so that the people of Congo, here, are able to receive the vaccine. We need it here just as much as every part of the world.” — Teohna Williams, Deputy Head of Bunia Office/MONUSCO

“Social media is a source for fun, but not always reliable information: Social media is for sharing pictures and staying connected to the world. Visit reliable sources for information on COVID-19.” — Private Rossana Fernandez, Uruguayan Translator/UNDOF

2. BARRIER MEASURES SAVE LIVES

It is the smallest of jobs that can often have the biggest impact. In a COVID-19 environment, seemingly insignificant tasks, such as mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing, can have the most profound impact in keeping all members of a force safe and operationally ready to deploy as necessary. In this way, all peacekeepers have a vital role to play in the overall functionality of a mission.” — Lt. Afric Gallagher, Irish Force Reserve Company/UNDOF

“I adapted to the new context of mask-wearing, the utilization of hand sanitizer and social distancing measures with my colleagues from Super Camp in which I live.” — Captain Dorothee Gadji Nee Ble, Ivory UN Police Officer/MINUSMA

“I learned what measures to take if COVID-19 symptoms are present, including staying at home, self containment and seeking medical care.” — Adj. Kabore Kinda Alizeta, Gender Focal Point, UN Police/MINUSMA

“I learned that the safety measures to protect me also contribute to the protection of my fellow peacekeepers. Wearing a face mask, washing hands, and practicing social distancing not only prevent contracting the virus, but also prevent transmitting it to others.” — Agbezo Abra, Togolese Police Lieutenant/MINUSMA

3. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Being away from home is hard, but things are hard for those at home too. While many of us struggle missing our family and friends at home, it is important to remember that those at home are missing us too.” — Lt. Afric Gallagher, Irish Force Reserve Company/UNDOF

“To stay in contact with my friends and family, I push myself to hear regularly from them and to comfort those directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic.” — Emma Dago Popo, Planning and Coordination Officer, UN Volunteer/MONUSCO

“Since I had lost both my parents during the early moments of the pandemic, I reinforced my relations with my family through consistent phone calls.” — Juliette Akissi Kouadio, UN Police Officer/BINUH

Peer support and keeping in touch with colleagues during isolation time is very important. It is also possible to celebrate birthdays with your office colleagues while isolated. My colleagues and I, while in strict isolation after our Commander tested positive on COVID-19, created a funny video message for him, and while he was viewing the video, he got a birthday cake delivered to his door. It really was an interesting experience that brought us closer.” — Maja Smajlovic, Bosnian Police Sector Commander/UNFICYP

4. MOVING PART OF THE JOB ONLINE

“I’ve appreciated the importance of modern communication during these times where the possibility of physical contact is limited. For example, teleworking allows us to work while being at home and reduces our risks of contamination.” — Pascaline Bassole Zongo, Serious and Organized Crime Burkinabe UN Police Officer/MINUSMA

“The health crisis brought along by the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me to understand how remote work and honest collaboration can result in better efficiency and less stress. Today, thanks to new technology, the entire personnel of the UN can actively contribute at a virtual meeting no matter their geographical location.” — Saly Baro Drame, Malian UN Police Gender Advisor/BINUH

Innovation is key: When the pandemic spread across South Sudan, I found ways to reach communities virtually on key issues that impact them; not an easy task in the world’s newest country with limited digital reach.” — Carole Abou Farah, Public Information Officer, UN Volunteer/UNMISS

5. ADJUSTING OUR WORK TO SERVE THE POPULATION

The duties of a peacekeeper don’t get put on hold as a result of a pandemic; rather, we adapt and overcome. Peacekeeping is not a job that can be fully done ‘from home’ generally speaking, so it has been necessary for UN troop-contributing countries to come up with strategies to adapt to a COVID-19 environment, in mission areas all over the world. In this way, we have drawn on our military experience in order to improvise, adapt and to employ flexibility in order to uphold our mandates.” — Lt. Afric Gallagher, Irish Force Reserve Company/UNDOF

Dealing with change: The first thing I learned from COVID-19 is my capacity to adapt to a new reality as a peacekeeper. This unexpected health crisis has led to finding new strategies to confront upheaval, uncertainty and sudden change in our private and professional lives.” — Saly Baro Drame, Malian UN Police Gender Advisor/BINUH

“I had to adjust and reduce the number of participants in face-to-face awareness campaigns from 100 to around 20 people. This obliged me to target participants more efficiently, resulting in a better management of participants.” — Aya Henriette Carvallo Epouse Diomande, Human Right Specialist/MONUSCO

I rethought the conduct of my professional activities on the ground by privileging encounters in restrained groups. I also organized myself better to avoid unnecessary movement.” — Emma Dago Popo, Planning and Coordination Officer, UN Volunteer/MONUSCO

6. DISCOVERING NEW SKILLS

Discover new things about myself: The health crisis has allowed me to discover a few hidden talents of mine. During the lockdown, I learned to braid all by myself, something that I would have never imagined possible. Today, I can say that although the lockdown is not pleasant because of its stress and anxiety, it still did bring me beautiful life lessons as a peacekeeper.” — Saly Baro Drame, Malian UN Police Gender Advisor/BINUH

New indoor activities: Learning a new language, reading thrilling books, learning yoga; this has helped me stay active and optimistic.” — Private Rossana Fernandez, Uruguayan Translator/UNDOF

I was able to improve my knowledge of informatic tools by spending more time working on the computer and doing research.” — Jeanne d’Arc Kohou, Burkinabe UN Police Officer/MINUSMA.

Reading time. The pandemic was a great opportunity for me to do things I normally don’t have time to do. It meant reading the books that I always loved but never had enough time to devote to. I was able to expand my knowledge and hobbies as well.” — Maja Smajlovic, Bosnian Police Sector Commander/UNFICYP

7. STAYING POSITIVE

Life is short, so do something important with yours. My own dad passed away suddenly after a brief battle with COVID-19 last year, so I know first-hand how devastating an effect this disease can have on families the world over. To see me serving as a peacekeeper with the UN would have made him extremely proud, and that motivates me to continue seeking opportunities to contribute in a positive and meaningful way to the world around me, both professionally and personally.” — Lt. Afric Gallagher, Irish Force Reserve Company/UNDOF

Stay positive! This is crucial to me. A positive mindset is way more helpful than one in panic. All things, good and bad, have an end. This pandemic does too. The end of the tunnel is around the corner!” — Private Rossana Fernandez, Uruguayan Translator/UNDOF

Count your blessings: People cope with stress and fear differently. I always considered myself lucky to have supportive friends, and the current situation reinforced my belief never to take their presence in my life for granted.” — Carole Abou Farah, Public Information Officer, UN Volunteer/UNMISS

I learned to appreciate small things in life. Like sitting socially-distanced in an outdoor café with friends, resting on the beach and enjoying the sunshine, being healthy and connected with family and friends.” — Maja Smajlovic, Bosnian Police Sector Commander/UNFICYP

8. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER

“All human beings in this world are interdependent. If we want to achieve peace and defeat this pandemic, we have to work together.” — Farzana Begum, Bangladeshi UN Police Officer/MONUSCO

“During the pandemic, the whole world became the same. People from different parts of the globe had the same priorities. I have to admit that in some way this was a nice feeling; everybody working towards the same goal.” — Maja Smajlovic, Bosnian Police Sector Commander/UNFICYP

Social interdependence: The pandemic reminds us that we must remain united and that the health of others depends also on our daily behaviours; that moral and material solidarity with those affected is necessary.” — Pascaline Bassole Zongo, Serious and Organized Crime Burkinabe UN Police Officer/MINUSMA


8 things I learned as a peacekeeper during COVID-19 was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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