A Civil Affairs Officer with UNAMID's Governance and Community Stabilization section, Tamasha Mpyisi-White has worked with the Mission for the past ten years. In this short interview, Tamasha speaks about how her love for reading during formative teen years and an awareness of conflict across the world led to her opt for a career with UN peacekeeping as well as reveals how her work builds capacities of local populations, especially women.
Q: Why did you opt for peacekeeping as a career?
A: In my early teens, I read a book by Louisa May Alcott and fell in love with one of the main characters in the book who ran an orphanage/school for at risk boys. From then on, I decided that I would work in a field where I can help people and make a difference in their lives.
I was in college when the conflict erupted in former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide took place. Watching media coverage on the atrocities committed, particularly against women, increased my resolve and passion to work with the United Nations and other international organizations that assist people in need. When I got the opportunity to work with UNAMID, I did not hesitate to take it up. Now, nearly 10 years later, I am still here and am still equally passionate about what I do.
In your opinion, what is the impact of your work as a UN peacekeeper?
I serve as a Civil Affairs Officer with UNAMID. We work and support communities at the local level. I believe the greatest impact of our work with the UN has been giving hope to communities--many of our interventions have led members of the Darfuri community to believe that they can live normal lives without conflict and that anything is achievable.
Personally, I believe the biggest impact has been on Darfuri women who have been empowered through various Mission initiatives. For example, during the Doha peace negotiations, Civil Affairs and other sections trained women on conflict resolution and management which enabled them to travel to Doha to take part in peace talks. We also encourage and promote women to be included in roles that have been, traditionally, reserved for men, like the Judiya, a traditional conflict resolution mechanism used here. In recent times, with the support of UNAMID Civil Affairs, women have been taking an active part in such peace processes.
Could you tell us a bit about Quick Impact Projects that have built the capacity of local women across Darfur?
UNAMID, through its Civil Affairs Section, has implemented various Quick Impact Projects across Darfur that empower and build the capacity of women. An example of this is training given to groups of displaced women on making fuel efficient stoves which has not only provided them with an opportunity to generate income, by making and selling these stoves, but also resulted in a trickle-down effect where the beneficiaries, in turn, trained other community members on building such stoves.
UNAMID has also constructed women's development centres which give Darfuri women a platform to meet and discuss issues of concern as well as develop strategies to resolve them. These centres are also used by local women as training hubs where they conduct vocational training in various fields such as food processing, perfume-making, handicrafts and so forth.
What do you think is the most important thing we can do to ensure that women in conflict situations are safe from sexual and gender-based violence?
I believe protection and empowerment of women is a major issue. Whatever we do in this regard, there will always be more that we have to provide--more psycho-social support, more sensitization, more rights education, more capacity-building... the list is endless. In such a situation, I feel that it's not just enough to build capacity and raise awareness about SGBV among local populations. We have to ensure that actual structures are put in place so that women continue to benefit from our capacity-building initiatives in the long run.
I think it would be great if UN missions come up with a consolidated plan for ensuring that there are teams in place which deal actively with follow-ups on reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence. In my opinion, dedicated follow-up teams in all field missions would go a long way in empowering women trapped in conflict situations and ensuring that we, as UN personnel, are able to gauge the actual impact of our interventions on the ground.