The young Cambodian peacekeeper inspiring change: Paving the road to lasting peace amidst the pandemic
28 May 2021
This year, the challenges and threats faced by the peacekeepers are greater than ever. Peacekeepers have to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic while working around
In South Sudan, Imam Malyko, a 29-year-old Cambodian peacekeeper, is among 70 Cambodian peacekeepers going the extra mile every day to protect civilians from both the conflict and the pandemic. Even when COVID-19 surged in South Sudan, the peace operation mission for Sudan continues.
As the Cambodian UN Police, their roles include enforcing the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) traffic regulations, ensuring law and order among civilians and military, acting as police personnel, and conducting accident investigations. In this unprecedented time, the Cambodian UN Police work also involves promoting COVID-19 health and safety measures. Now Malyko and her fellow peacekeepers are at the front-line of two major calamities: a conflic zone and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite dealing with stress resulting from the pandemic, Malyko and her team are resilient enough to adapt to the new normal, and she has never lost her nerve. Malyko explained there are many challenges, especially amidst the pandemic, that female peacekeepers like her have to embrace.
“In Cambodia, there is a mindset that women have to stay at home and must do household chores and have to be obedient daughters. But when I am here in South Sudan, I have my responsibility, I work under the sun where the weather is almost 40°C. But when we love the job, we do it with love,” Malyko said confidently.
Against all odds, Malyko joined the National Peacekeeper Center as a soldier in 2010. Her friends and relatives told her that peacekeeping is dangerous for a woman like her and that she would not go far in this career path. Even though none of her family members were soldiers, her parents were very supportive. They encouraged her to be brave and move forward with her goal. She joined the Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan in 2017.
“In South Sudan, we are a small unit, having only 70 personnel. But as part of the UN Charter, everyone recognizes us. We have good interactions and good communications with other personnel. We love and we are very proud of our work,” Malyko added.
“I would like to share a message to women in my country [Cambodia]. I want to see more Cambodian females join the peacekeeping missions. I want to see more women working in higher positions. I want to tell all fellow women that we can do more than we ever think. One day you will realize that you are doing something beyond just for yourself but you do it for others. When you help other people, that makes you feel like you are born to help other people. That’s the meaning of life,” she added.
The involvement of youth and women is essential for peace, security and human rights.
Malyko emphasised that peace is fundemental to every society, that to her peace means waking up to have food, to feeling secure, and to not having to move to a different place to feel safe.
As someone passionate about helping other people, Malyko has been involved in a number of charity activities since a young age, including acting as a translator for an international de-mining team when they cleared mines from the land close to her hometown. Malyko felt inspired and wanted to become like them.
“To acquire peace, young people have to have access to quality education and respect diversity,” said Malyko.
Promoting young people involved in peacebuilding is key to achieving long-term peace and promote human rights. From peacekeepers to volunteer work in society, young people help bring together new ideas and innovation in the mission they serve and the society that they live in. Just like Malyko dreamed of becoming a peacekeeper and helping her society achieve peace, the seed was planted since she was young.
Even though women’s involvement in peacebuilding work has risen, more needs to be done. Women are often overlooked, but they are undoubtedly the most effective agents to bring lasting peace in peace operation missions. Malyko, too, believes that her work as a female peacekeeper has brought important change to the communities that she serve—by setting examples for women and girls to advocate for their own rights.
“People are very happy to see women in uniform because they usually only see men. Every time I visit the community, women always come and interact with me, they say they want their children to grow up to become a peacekeeper like myself,” said Malyko.
As we mark International Peacekeeping Day, Malyko and other young peacekeepers play an important role in bringing new ideas and innovations to peacekeeping efforts, which is more critical than ever in light of the pandemic. They are paving the way forward to peace, and for other young people to participate in building their future world.
As of March 2021, Cambodia is the 27th largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN Peacekeeping. It currently deploys 767 peacekeepers, 95 are women, to the UN peace operations in Abyei, the Central African Republic, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan, and South Sudan.