By: Samira Y. Salifu
Lieutenant Colonel Chea Maysaros from Cambodia is serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) as a deputy commanding officer for the Cambodian Military Police unit. In this story, she recounts some of her exciting and life-changing experiences during her peacekeeping journey with the UN and hopes other women can follow her example.
“I used to be a kindergarten school teacher in a private school in Cambodia. My career, however, veered towards peacekeeping in 2010 when Cambodia hosted the Global Peace Operations Initiative exercise themed ‘Angkor Sentinel’. The event focused on enhancing the effectiveness of peacekeepers for UN and regional peace support operations and involved participants from many countries. What I saw during the exercise captivated me so much that I applied for the Armed Forces exam and passed.
I have served with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces ever since and joined in subsequent Angkor Sentinel exercises in Cambodia and in other similar exercises in Thailand, Mongolia and Bangladesh.
My first deployment as a UN peacekeeper came in 2012 to South Sudan in UNMISS, where I served in alternating capacities of operations officer and logistics officer for the Cambodian contingent, and later as a military observer for the Mission.
It was a very difficult experience. During the dry season in South Sudan, temperatures could climb up to 50 degrees Celsius, finding safe and usable toilets as the only woman during long-duration patrols was tough, road ambushes were a constant threat, and it was a norm to drive through difficult terrain where floods and potholes had left roads impassable.
A few years later, I served in the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) as a deputy commanding officer for the Cambodian Multi-Role Engineering Unit. My team was responsible for demining and maintaining the blue barrels along the UN-drawn “Blue Line”, the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel, to safeguard life and property.
In Lebanon, extreme temperatures and acute water shortages were commonplace; protests and shelling along the border were also a reminder of danger.
Today, I am back in South Sudan as a deputy commanding officer for the Cambodian Military Police unit, and responsible for all unit operations and gender affairs.
Being a Peacekeeper is hard work and serving as a female peacekeeper is even more daunting. Often, I am the only female voice amongst many male peers. But it makes me conscious of the fact that I can accomplish anything the men can.
I also believe my presence during patrols helps my team to engage effectively with women who have been victims of sexual and gender-based violence, for example, because women usually feel more comfortable sharing sensitive information with other women.
This is why for me, increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping is a strategic imperative. So, I hope many more women will be empowered through education and opportunities so they can also serve for peace.”
For 75 years, UN peacekeepers have worked alongside international partners, community leaders and Member States to save and change lives in the world’s most fragile political and security situations. These are ordinary people striving to achieve extraordinary outcomes in often difficult and dangerous situations. They are People for Peace, and these are their stories.