Kathmandu, May 29
DSP Dr Jyoti Bastola Paudel, who is currently serving in the United Nations Mission in Darfur as a member of the 16th contingent Nepal FPU, said women peacekeepers could play vital role in restoring and sustaining peace in conflict-hit communities as women and children — the most vulnerable groups — trusted women peacekeepers more than anybody else.
Talking to THT over phone from Darfur, a conflict-hit region in the African nation of Sudan, Paudel, 32, who is a resident of Pokhara, said she had seen victims of sexual violence reporting crimes to women peacekeepers first before going to domestic police offices to seek justice.
She said although the UN agencies were helping the communities with their limited resources, whatever they were doing in the region was helping communities restore and sustain peace.
Paudel, who leads a team of 11 health professionals at level-1 hospital at the 16th contingent Nepal FPU site in North Darfur, said local people trusted the UN Mission also because UN peacekeepers helped the local communities not only by restoring peace but also by building health infrastructure and providing self-generating income businesses.
Peacekeepers have set up a level-1 hospital at Tawilla, in north Darfur mainly to provide basic health and emergency services to 250 UN peacekeepers deployed in the area, out of which 180 are members of Nepal Police, including 24 females.
This hospital also provides emergency services to local people.
“After we helped the local communities restore their hospitals, provided training to local health professionals, other donors also started providing help to local people to upgrade health infrastructure in the surrounding areas.”
A lot of people, including internally displaced people, started to come and seek service from the hospitals in the areas, she said, adding that availability of health serves also helped the community rehabilitate internally displaced persons. “Internally displaced persons and returnees are in need of health and other services and when they find these facilities in their own areas they stay in their own areas instead of returning to IDP camps,” she said.
People trust women peacekeepers more because peacekeepers understand the impacts of conflicts and problems of vulnerable groups better than other groups, she said.
According to her, women peacekeepers, who patrol the surrounding areas, leave good impression on the local people.
“When we came to this area, health infrastructure was very poor and even the existing hospitals were abandoned.”
Sixteenth contingent Nepal FPU also imported some medical equipment, including a portable ventilator, from Nepal to help build health infrastructure there.
Nepali peace keepers not only helped restore peace and health infrastructure, but also helped the local communities with self-generating income programmes such as sewing and doughnut making skills. Nepali teams also provided computer training to school teachers and IDP leaders.
“Many women have set up tailoring shops after we provided them skills and some seed money. Some other women started selling their doughnuts at schools and I think that has helped the local communities a lot to support their families,” Paudel added.
Paudel said her team’s assistance to the local communities in the face of coronavirus pandemic was very helpful.
According to her, even health professionals were not aware of the risk of COVID-19 pandemic and how to isolate suspected COVID-19 patients. Nepali women peacekeepers helped local health professionals set up COVID-19 isolation wards.
“In this area, people are at high risk of COVID-19 infection because of low awareness and their lifestyle. “People hug each other and members of families often eat from the same plate. These social norms need to change to ward off COVID-19 and thus it is a challenge that needs to be addressed in this area,” she said, adding that her team helped create awareness about the risk of COVID-19 and the importance of social distancing.
When asked how coronavirus pandemic had impacted her personal life, Paudel said the thought of how her family members in Nepal were coping with the fear of coronavirus pandemic often crossed her mind these days. “At times, I become anxious that if any of my family members got infected, I would not be able to fly to take care of them,” she said.
Nepal FPU 16th contingent Commander Meera Chaudhary said she too was worried about the risk of COVID-19 pandemic, but she consoled herself by saying that she chose the profession of a soldier and as her current posting was part of her job, she should not worry about the risk of contracting the disease.
According to the Doctor, the income generation programme was the biggest legacy of Nepali women peacekeepers in the conflict-hit region of Sudan.