Celebrating our own young agents of peace

May 7, 2021

On International Day of UN Peacekeepers (29 May), we pay tribute to all the uniformed and civilian personnel who have served in UN Peacekeeping operations. This day is an opportunity to commend their invaluable contribution to the Organization’s work, and pay respect to the more than 4,000 peacekeepers who have lost their lives while serving under the UN flag.

This year’s theme, “The road to a lasting peace: Leveraging the power of youth for peace and security”, highlights the vital role of youth in peace processes as acknowledged by resolution 2250 of the UN Security Council. Consisting of five pillars — participation, protection, prevention, partnerships, and disengagement and reintegration — this monumental resolution affirmed the critical contribution of youth (defined as persons aged 18–29 years old) in fostering sustainable peace. It also urged Member States to increase youth representation in decision-making, and establish mechanisms to ensure young peoples’ meaningful inclusion in building and sustaining peace.

Throughout the month of May, we celebrate the contributions of all the local youth and young peacekeepers dedicated to promoting durable peace. Their work became even more critical this year due to COVID-19. Amid this time of global uncertainty, our young peacekeepers not only continued implementing their mandates but also supported national and local efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

We asked some of our young peacekeepers to share what they love the most about serving for peace and what they have learned through their experience on the field. Let us embark on a virtual journey across 8 peacekeeping missions, meeting some of our young and bold drivers of peace and get to know their stories.

MINUSCA in the Central African Republic

From top left to bottom right: Nema Naslova, Merveille-Noella Mada Yayoro, Oumarou Moussa, Mevoa Ndjana Solange (Photos: MINUSCA)

Our first stop is the Central African Republic, where Mevoa Ndjana Solange (24) serves as a Police Officer. Originally from Cameroon, her role consists of helping communities through proximity and security patrols. Her enthusiasm stems from the fact that she can collaborate with people from other nationalities and explore the world. Oumarou Moussa (28) holds a critical position in the mission as a database manager. Data and data visualization are integral for ensuring the success of UN peacekeeping missions. It is Oumarou, along with the rest of the Joint Mission Analysis Center Team, that guarantees that information is disseminated in an accurate and timely manner. In her job at a local radio station, the 28-year-old journalist/producer Merveille-Noella Mada Yayoro is responsible for educating her listeners on important matters, especially COVID-19. Her favorite part of this job is being more proactive on the ground and feeling closer to people. On a similar note, Nema Naslova (28), a fellow MINUSCA peacekeeper, is grateful for the inner peace she feels after helping others. She loves her job as a nurse since “you learn new things every day, and the opportunity for growth is almost unlimited”.

MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

From top left to bottom right: Chris Shandu Sbongakonke, Sosthene Olenga, Phelisa Frida Miya, Carolina Meroni (Photos: MONUSCO)

In DRC, we meet one of the few women paratroopers in the world, Phelisa Frida Miya (28), who feels proud for excelling in a male dominated field. Child protection reporting and database manager, Carolina Meroni (25) admits that her decision to become a peacekeeper was greatly influenced by her passion to work for and with children. Seeing the impact of her work in conflict settings is what drives her to continue serving for peace despite adversity. Her 27-year-old South African colleague, Chris Shandu Sbongakonke, is deployed as a rifleman, and maps out routes for patrols or missions and, thus, interacts a lot with the locals. This allows him to understand cultural diversity in DRC and find better ways to promote peace in the area. Sosthene Olenga has been in the frontline in this pandemic as the imposed restrictions have increased the need for stable and reliable Internet
connection. Throughout this time, the 28-year-old IT technician and his team have been working tirelessly to ensure seamless connection for all staff members. Finally, Gabriella Davida Ginsberg Fletcher (29) works with ex-combatants and those at risk of recruitment by armed groups to support their reintegration into their communities. “I think there are opportunities for us to reduce violence in communities and support peacebuilding in the DR Congo”, she says.

Gabriella Davida Ginsberg Fletcher (center) (Photo: MONUSCO)

MINUSMA in Mali

From top left to bottom right: Ndieng Birame, Mary Ofori Amponsah, Lt. Kossi Gavon, Sira Bojang (Photos: MINUSMA)

In Mali, we meet 29-year-old Sira Bojang from Norway who works as a police trainer in crime scene management. For Sira, serving as a peacekeeper taught her not to take things for granted and boosted her creativity. Her colleague Ndieng Birame (29) explains that it is the smiles on the faces of children and the communities he serves that make him most proud of his job as an FPU police operational officer. When asked about working in MINUSMA, Mary Ofori Amponsah (28) highlights that as a health and safety assistant, she had a crucial role during the pandemic; to nurture a safe and healthy working environment for every staff member. Last but not least, Lt. Kossi Gavon, who at 24 years of age is the youngest member of his battalion, comments that serving for peace is a tremendous honour especially during these difficult times.

UNDOF in Golan

From left to right: Sumitra KC and Prvt. Hector Prieto (Photos: UNDOF)

In Golan, Private Hector Prieto (23) from Uruguay confirms that he has never felt discouraged by the daily challenges of being a peacekeeper. The adversities he faces motivate him to work harder and adapt to ever-changing conditions. His compatriot 2/Lt. Martin Acosta (26) adds that what he enjoys the most is the appreciation he receives while fulfilling his duties. “People really believe in the meaning of the UN emblem and flag. I can see hope in the eyes of children when we pass by and appreciation in the faces of the people.” Their colleague, Warrant Officer Sumitra KC, is another valuable team member whose contribution has been crucial especially in the light of the pandemic. The Nepalese 27-year-old nurse provides 24/7 healthcare services. During the COVID-19 crisis, she not only helped to combat the spread of the virus but also managed to foster a sense of trust within the mission and the local community.

2/Lt. Martin Acosta (Photo: UNDOF)

UNFICYP in Cyprus

From top left to bottom right: Lance Corporal Scott Lees, Cpl Tamara Giselle Rafael Quinteros, Prvt. Arvin Lorenzo, Prvt. Romina Vachulíková (Photos: UNFICYP)

UNFICYP hosts one of our youngest peacekeepers, Lance Corporal Scott Lees. Lees made the bold decision to move from the UK at only 22 years-of-age to work in the Mobile Force Reserve. He explains that he enjoys the responsibility he is given, as well as the freedom associated with his peacekeeping duties. When asked about what she enjoys the most as a peacekeeper, Lees’ colleague, Private Romina Vachulíková, explains that she loves exploring new people and cultures. Vachulíková would like to pursue further opportunities in peacekeeping based on her current experience as a gate guard. Exploring different cultures is also one of the aspects that Private Arvin Lorenzo enjoys the most as a patrol officer in UNFICYP. The 24-year-old Belizean Blue Helmet stresses the need for effective communication taking into account cultural sensitivities. “Speaking in a gentle tone and having a speaking manner that people don’t feel is harsh is good to carry out through the job”, he says. The story of Argentinean Corporal Tamara Giselle Rafael Quinteros (27) showcases the self-sacrifice it takes for serving for peace, as our peacekeepers often have to spend many months away from their families. Despite not being with her loved ones, and especially her 4-year-old daughter, she enjoys her deployment in Cyprus and stays strongly committed to the mision’s overarching goal of helping maintain peace and stability on the island.

UNIFIL in Lebanon

From top left to bottom right: Emanuele Pierro, Amer Maroun, Chiara Ghirri, 1st Cpl. Norma Maribel Bolanos (Photos: UNIFIL)

Amer Maroun (28) remains passionate about his job as an electrician despite COVID-19. What he is most enthusiastic about is commissioning solar projects and contributing to a more sustainable future for local populations. For Emanuele Pierro, bearing the Blue Helmet is a deeply gratifying and rewarding experience. At only 22 years of age, the Italian rifleman has been supporting his team’s efforts to curb the virus across local communities. His colleague, 1st Cpl. Norma Maribel Bolanos (24), says that working as a peacekeeper has taught her the importance of the citizen’s desire for peace. Originally from El Salvador, she moved to Lebanon to promote a prosperous future for the country. She admits that what fuels her motivation to serve peace is the kindness from local populations. In terms of motivation, both her colleagues, driver Chiara Ghirri (24) and logistic officer Aleksa Vucic (27), affirm that they love learning. “Every day is for me an opportunity to improve” says Chiara, while Aleksa adds that being a peacekeeper is a true learning experience that provides him with useful knowledge and skills.

Aleksa Vucic (Photo: UNIFIL)

UNMISS in South Sudan

From top left to bottom right: Subhonzoda Abdumannon, Kirti Kler, Captain Jinha Kim, Nanah Kamara (Photos: UNMISS)

Nanah Kamara (28) from Sierra Leone admits that peacekeeping has instilled in her respect for diversity. “Working in a community where you have to interact with different people with various backgrounds is not easy. It’s made me more tolerant and patient”, she explains. Her colleague, Captain Jinha Kim (28), with a background in aerospace engineering, admits that he had to adapt and grow in a multicultural environment, a challenge that served as an unforgettable learning experience. Their colleague Subhonzoda Abdumannon (28) states that “there is no substitute for true kindness and care” and reveals that serving others is what makes him more excited about his job as a police officer in the mission. Civil affairs officer and UN Volunteer, Kirti Kler (27), affirms that the most important aspect of her job is its people-centered approach. To her, it is often the communities themselves that provide solutions to problems.

UNMIK in Kosovo

From left to right: Sebastian Denton and Trushaa Castelino (Photos: UNMIK)

“I have always considered myself a ‘field person’”, affirms Oksana Siruk (28), Associate Human Rights Officer in UNMIK. She explains that she is genuinely motivated by understanding problems and identifying solutions for people on the ground. Her colleague, Sebastian Denton, on the other hand, has a different but equally critical role; the 28-year-old political affairs officer may not deal directly with the field, but he liaises with the UN Secretariat in New York to keep people updated on the latest political events. Finally, their colleague Trushaa Castelino (28) from India shares that peacekeeping helped her understand that it takes innovation and willingness to break cycles and identify creative solutions to everyday problems.

Oksana Siruk (left) (Photo: UNMIK)

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