Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

“I used to be a kindergarten teacher and loved it, but then I felt I was ready to play with older children,” says Colonel Maysaros Chea from Cambodia, cheeky smile on her face.

She would have barely left kindergarten herself, as a little girl, when a UN peacekeeping operation on her home soil shepherded Cambodia to free elections, held in 1993.

Little did she know then, or even 17 years later, when she swapped playgrounds for a career in the army, that she would go on to write a fine piece of peacekeeping history. Since December last year, Colonel Chea has been the first ever female military contingent commander serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

“It makes me proud, of course. I never imagined being given so much trust and responsibility. I keep asking myself ‘why me and not someone else’, and I’m still looking for the answer,” says Maysaros, Commanding Officer of the Cambodian peacekeeping contingent that makes up the UN Military Police in South Sudan.

Let us help Colonel Chea find a good reason or two.

It may have something to do with the vast experience that she has acquired.

It could be linked with Maysaros having worked not only as a Military Police, but also with logistics, as a military observer, with demining and as a gender focal point.

It may be that it’s because she has excelled at every task she has taken on.

“Well, I guess, but none of this would have happened without my government back home. In recent times, Cambodia has become rather progressive in terms of empowering women. Equality issues are taken seriously, which is why 34 of my contingent’s 70 members are females,” she says.

Maysaros can compare. When she made her UN peacekeeping debut in 2012, also with UNMISS, only six out 70 Cambodian Military Police personnel were women. Change, she says, takes time, “but it happens”.

It was one such change that would make Colonel Chea join Cambodia’s military forces in 2010. That year, her country deployed its first female peacekeepers, to the UN peace operation in Lebanon.

“That truly inspired me. I wanted to be one of these pioneering women, because the opportunity they were given resonated with my own curiosity and interest in seeing and trying to understand new places and realities – while serving for peace, possibly the greatest cause of all.”

Maysaros is the first to concede that a chance to serve internationally, getting to know and learn from colleagues from around the globe, contributed heavily to lure her to a life in uniform.

“Absolutely, but it was also the challenge, to develop new skills and to prove to myself and others that women can do anything that men do, and sometimes better as well.”

Colonel Chea, if anyone, has systematically taken responsibility for her own career progression by giving the concept of continuous learning a face. Since she joined the military, and in between her (so far) six stints serving as a UN peacekeeper, in South Sudan and Lebanon, she has found and attended different courses.

For this reason, her bulging CV sports a Logistics Officer training in Indonesia, another on issues related to demining, a Staff Officer course, and participation in several international peacekeeping exercises in various countries.

“What can I say? I still want to learn more; I always will do. The fact that I have been given the trust and opportunities to use all these skills professionally obviously keeps motivating me and will serve me will when I look for different capacities to try within peacekeeping,” says Maysaros, who hopes to be a Blue Helmet for the foreseeable future.

Here and now, Colonel Chea relishes her current role as Commanding Officer. Admitting that she “doesn’t always enjoy the big responsibility”, she says that she is still living her best moment of her career.

“It is often difficult, but it’s definitely a challenge with benefits. In a hierarchical organization, a higher post means that I can talk directly, without detours, to other contingent commanders, the Force Commander, and the mission leadership in general. Imagine, for the first time I can approach anyone to request support or make suggestions.”

For other girls and women to flourish, in South Sudan or elsewhere, her advice is both simple and manifold.

“Take space, be confident, never be afraid to demonstrate your abilities. Always show solidarity with other women and remember that no success can be achieved without patience and hard work.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

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