Maj Farzana Afsar narrates her unique experience of serving in two missions during the same tenure
It is difficult to leave your family and go abroad; I could never imagine leaving my family but when the opportunity knocked on my door I managed to gather all my strength and said ‘yes’ to the UN Peacekeeping Mission. Serving under the UN flag, wearing the blue helmet and serving Pakistan is an honour unlike any other. My work is my passion and I believe that if you are a woman of integrity and you perform your duties with honesty then you will always be able to conquer your fears. I believe that commitment, dedication, strength and passion are the key ingredients to succeed in any profession. As a woman who served outside the borders of her country, I encourage all women, who are given the opportunity, to participate in peacekeeping missions. And sometimes you might get to do something that very few have done; for me the spin was that I got to serve in two UN Peacekeeping Missions one after the other during my yearlong tenure as a peacekeeper.
United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO
My journey to DRC was full of excitement. When I reached the mission area, in addition to my hospital duties, I was also selected as a Civil Military Coordination (CIMIC) officer. My team was responsible for the communication between civilians, police and military in the mission area. We had to understand the role and function of each body in order to develop, facilitate and coordinate support to the local community. As a woman and a female peacekeeper, I came to deeply understand the suffering of Congolese women. I spent a lot of time with them and provided them with free medical treatment. When our team went out for patrols, the local women and young girls came to us for help. They shared their concerns, which allowed us to help them better. We delivered several lectures, especially for victims of sexual violence. We organized regular camps for women and children to raise awareness about HIV AIDS, malaria, Ebola, etc. Being part of the medical team allowed me to help many women and children; the best part was that I contributed in improving their physical and mental health, which allowed them to live a better life.
The United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur
Mission to Sudan was another wonderful experience. I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen two African countries while wearing the blue helmet and the green flag. I must acknowledge all my colleagues who later became good friends, it was because of their hard work and professionalism that allowed the contingent to deter violence and protect the civilians across Sudan, helping the country transition from war to peace. I was assigned to work in the mission area at a Level 1 Hospital. Our objective was to assess the condition of the mission area, analyze the threat levels and address the problems of the local populace. While patrolling the mission area, the team was able to make several arrangements like delivering lectures, performing demos and raising awareness about violence to help the Sudanese women and children. We also treated many emergency cases. I felt proud to be a part of Pakistan Army contingent, especially when the locals appreciated us for our efforts. They displayed their loved by chanting ‘Pakistan Zindabad!’ when we passed by. We all worked hard to try to improve the security situation of the locals.
The contingent arranged a series of training sessions at the local community center in the mission area to enhance capacity-building measures and to train the local women in providing first aid, basic life support, control bleeding, managing factures, burns and unconscious patients, micro-financing, marketing and sewing of different types of clothes. 80 women were trained in the initial phase. The goal was to uplift women socially and economically so that they could become self-sufficient. With proper technical education women were able to polish their skills, which enabled them to generate a steady income while working at home. Lectures on micro-finance and marketing techniques were also arranged. Simple basic techniques of cutting and sewing were taught so that they could start their own sewing business and share the knowledge to others. With the help of these training sessions, women were helped to prepare to take on a completely new role in their communities.
After peace started to prevail, the local population made efforts to achieve their dreams for a better future. I feel like the work we did there was extremely rewarding and it brought us immense joy to see the locals gain control over their own lives. This also helped them in acting on issues that they deemed important, like eliminating gender-based violence. We witnessed that the local women started to participate in making important life choices and the local men started to play an active role at home. Uplifting the female population not only benefited the local women but also improved the household and the whole community. Education, training, raising awareness, etc., not only enhanced the locals’ ability to make correct and timely decisions but also improved their living standard.
Other than helping the locals, I thoroughly enjoyed other activities including morning walks. The fresh air in the morning, singing of birds, the flora and fauna refreshed my mind and soul. My colleagues and I enjoyed regular get-togethers with the locals and UN peacekeepers from different countries. We learned to celebrate unity in diversity in the mission area. Apart from get-togethers, we also participated in different social activities as well as physical activities like going to the gym, playing badminton and cricket. We hosted many cooking contests and celebrated different events like Eid in such a way that no one missed home too much. All of these activities contributed to making our mission more memorable. Our visit to the Sudanese capital Khartoum was the most memorable experience. Khartoum is famous for the White Nile, flowing north from Lake Victoria and the Blue Nile, flowing from Lake Tana in Ethiopia.
Female UN peacekeepers that served with me demonstrated through their motivation and dedication that they are excellent human beings and extraordinary professionals. Carrying national pride under the UN flag has been a rewarding experience for sure and it gave me joy to serve in the mission area. This experience has changed my vision and has made me stronger, and I feel that there is nothing more satisfying than protecting the civilians in conflict zones and in upholding international peace and security. HH
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