UNMISS Police Commissioner attends medal ceremony for nine outstanding Liberian police officers in UNMISS
“I remember the civil war in Liberia very well,” said Elfreda Dennice Stewart, a United Nations Police (UNPOL) officer serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“My parents managed – with a lot of sacrifice on their part – to get me to high school during a time of great turmoil in my country, after which I started doing a number of jobs to help out financially.”
Elfreda braided her hair and taught young children in her village, often returning home after midnight for fear of being raped at a time when sexual assault was rampant in Liberia.
Rachel Briggs, another UNPOL officer from Liberia deployed to the world’s youngest country, has a similar story. “I had so many dreams, but the war in my country shattered them. I was separated from my mother in 1990 and until today I don’t know if she is dead or alive. I keep looking for her, but my life has changed,” she reveals.
For UNPOL officer Alfreda Tozay, the memories of people killed, properties destroyed and extreme starvation stand out. “Liberia, when I was growing up, was a never-ending saga of horrors. My parents didn’t have enough food for us, and I went into the bush, made charcoal to sell in the streets. I would sell bread on the side of the road. But still, there was never enough to eat,” she says.
However, once the former United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was sent there in September 2003, their lives were drastically changed. After the second Liberian civil war, the UN was tasked with monitoring the ceasefire agreement.
However, peacekeepers on the ground have done more than just negotiate a difficult peace for the troubled nation; they were a beacon of hope for Liberians, especially women, to rise up and participate in creating a better future.
Some of the first women to join the Liberian National Police were Alfreda, Elfreda and Rachel who enrolled in the UNMIL police training program.
These extraordinary women are currently serving in United Nations peacekeeping as part of the first-ever deployment of UNPOL officers from Liberia.
All three are stationed in South Sudan, and they all have a special place in their hearts for Bor in Jonglei State.
“When I arrived in Bor and started patrolling among the communities, I knew exactly what they were going through because I and all Liberians suffered the same way,” Elfreda explains. “It put me in a unique position to connect with the people of South Sudan and ease tensions. When they hear my stories, they feel like they’ve found a sister. I always tell them: look where Liberia was and look how peaceful we are now, if we can do it, so can you.
For Rachel, showing empathy to the South Sudanese communities she serves has been both challenging and rewarding. “After my first patrol in Bor, I returned to my accommodation at the mission and cried. It was like watching history repeat itself in South Sudan. But I knew I could make a difference and bring hope to the communities living here. I tell them about my childhood, and I can’t stop insisting on one point: forgetting the past and uniting to build a better future for your children,” she says passionately.
“Our experience of a 14-year civil war and the impact that UN peacekeepers have had is real and tangible for the people we are on the ground to serve,” adds Alfreda. “We have benefited so much from the peacekeepers, and it is our honor to now serve in this young nation under the iconic Blue Flag.”
Nine UNPOL officers from Liberia, including Elfreda, Rachel and Alfreda, recently won the prestigious United Nations Medal for their contributions to the cause of establishing a stable peace in South Sudan.
“Being shortlisted for UNMISS was a dream come true and every day as we build the capacity of our local counterparts in the South Sudan Police Service, we ask them to see us as an example of what a country and its women can achieve, with the help of UN Peacekeeping,” Rachel continues with a smile.
“We learned a lot from UNMIL peacekeepers. Now, as UNMISS peacekeepers, it is time for us to give back to UN peacekeeping and South Sudan,” Elfreda says in conclusion.
UNMISS Police Commissioner Christine Fossen, Deputy Special Representative as well as Resident Coordinator for South Sudan Sara Beysolow Nyanti, also from Liberia, attended the historic medal ceremony for these nine outstanding Liberian police officers to UNMISS.