By: Stephanie Lemesianou | Editor: Urjasi Rudra
Working towards peace has become more important but also more complex in a world with proliferating conflicts and deepening divisions.
Despite the challenges, peacekeepers and the communities they serve have persevered to find common ground and practical solutions that made lives better and brought hope amidst despair.
Here are just five stories from 2022 that inspired and reminded us that peace begins with each and every one of us.
1. UNMAS cleared active minefields, home to over 1,500 people in Canal, South Sudan
Why would anyone relocate and try to make a home out of an active minefield? “The answer is — nobody would, but communities felt they had no choice,” said Fran O’ Grady, Chief of Mine Action, in South Sudan.
This year, the people of South Sudan have experienced the devastating impact of climate change, with some of the heaviest rainfall and flooding in nearly a century. Communities have been forced to move in a desperate search for dry land.
In a bid to survive, a community of 1,500 people moved into the remote area of Canal in Pigi County. However, the ground beneath their feet was littered with 25 anti-personnel mines, the grim remnants of previous conflicts.
Upon hearing about the incident, deminers from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) mobilized all resources to make the ground safe for the community.
Their task was not easy. Because the ground was hard, it couldn’t be cleared manually. They had to source a special machine and carry it up the river. According to Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNMISS Deputy Head, the mission is responsible for 75 percent of demining activities in South Sudan and this was a stellar example of success.
After deminers cleared the grounds entirely, the community grew to 10,000 members.
“Now, we can live without (fear)… we can dig the ground to build ourselves tukuls (mud huts) that provide us shelter from the rain and our children can play freely,” said Sarah, a women’s representative from the community in Canal.
Many more challenges remain, but the people of Canal are hopeful about rebuilding their lives.
2. Téné Maimouna Zoungrana won the first ever Trailblazer Award
Women are often “placed second or even ignored” when they are employed as correctional officers in detention centers, according to Téné Maimouna Zoungrana, a prison officer from Burkina Faso serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
In 2022, Zoungrana made history by winning the first United Nations Trailblazer Award, paving the way for other women in peacekeeping to break down barriers and stereotypes in a typically male-dominated space.
Zoungrana is the Coordinator of the Security Teams at the Ngaragba Central Prison, which is the largest and most notorious prison in the Central African Republic, housing 1,335 inmates, all men. Working with national partners and training them to maintain law and order and effective justice systems is a key function of peacekeeping.
As the main trainer and coordinator of rapid intervention activities, Zoungrana supports national prison staff in crisis management. This year, she empowered, trained and recruited five women to join the prison administration’s rapid intervention team.
“Together, with all the other women pioneers, we have a responsibility to carry the torch and break down the gender stereotypes, prejudices and barriers against women in the field of corrections and security,” she said.
3. Football brought together youth from conflict-torn communities in Mali
“Hope does not need great means to enlighten hearts,” said a member of civil society in Aguelhok, Mali, who was delighted to see young people uniting over sports.
Earlier this summer, 30 young people from Tessalit traveled more than 90 km to meet other youth from Aguelhok in a friendly football match. This was an opportunity for the two communities that have been scarred by conflicts to talk to each other and seek reconciliation.
The event was made possible thanks to significant security improvements made by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Peacekeepers carried out daily patrols, installed advanced security posts and conducted search operations to prevent the entry of weapons into the city. The event also built trust between MINUSMA and the communities.
Apart from MINUSMA’s financial support, youth from both communities raised additional funds for the event. “The organization of this match proves that the efforts of young people are important to promote peace and strengthen social cohesion,” said the members of the Tessalit team.
The UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, Security places young people at the center peace and sustainable development. Through sports and cultural events, young people can mobilize their peers and other community members to find peaceful ways to resolve local disputes. UN peacekeeping missions around the world work to advance the participation of women and youth in peace processes.
4. Disarmament and community reintegration for 164 Congolese ex-combatants
Moussa Abdula was 20 years old when he joined the Mai-Mai armed group, before being recruited by the M23 rebel group, who promised him a lot of money. After four years of a life of violence, he surrendered.
Like him, 164 other Congolese ex-combatants and 27 foreigners have been sent back to their communities or repatriated to their countries of origin since the beginning of 2022, thanks to the efforts made by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
Through several awareness-raising sessions, many ex-combatants agreed to join MONUSCO’s disarmament, demobilization and community reintegration (DDR) programme. After voluntarily laying down their weapons, these former combatants benefitted from psychological, health and nutritional care.
Membership of armed groups is mainly motivated by poverty, unemployment and the lure of profit. Peacekeeping missions like MONUSCO develop community violence reduction (CVR) programmes to help people develop skills that they can use for income-generation activities.
Between 2021 and 2022, 3,757 people, including ex-combatants, youth at risk and women benefited from 41 CVR projects implemented within their communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I surrendered to the MONUSCO contingent because I felt sick and tired of living in the forest, after long years of kidnapping and killing my own people for the sake of money,” said Moussa, with tears in his eyes. “I hope my community will accept me and give me the chance for a better reintegration.”
5. Pakistani Women Peacekeepers were at the Forefront of a Military Hospital in Mali
Pakistan is one of the longest-serving and largest troops and police contributing countries of UN peacekeeping operations.
In Mopti, Central Mali, since building a state-of-the-art military hospital from the ground up, Pakistani peacekeepers also deliver life-saving medical assistance for peacekeepers that are injured serving in the line of duty, as well as Malian civilians and members of the Malian Defense and Security Forces (MDSF).
Within the Level 2 hospital, Pakistani women peacekeepers are proudly at the forefront of providing urgent medical and surgical care. Their contributions reflect UN Peacekeeping’s deep-rooted commitment to upholding women’s roles in the promotion of sustainable peace and security.
This is no small feat within the extremely volatile security environment in Mali. Since the United Nations Peace Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was founded in 2013, peacekeepers are often deliberately targeted by armed terrorist groups and face the threats posed by landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“A challenging environment like this has really chiseled and honed our professional efficacy in terms of providing medical care in the field … In retrospect, our professional efficacy and our skills were tested time and again,” said Major Farah Javed Farooqi, who works at the hospital. “We surpassed all the challenges and played a major role in peacekeeping.”
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