Mali: VOICES OF COURAGE: Women volunteers paving the road for sustainable peace in Mali

Photo: MINUSMA
Ayaba Lonlon Vendome from Togo, Operations Officer in the Regional Joint Operation Center (RJOC) in MINUSMA
interview

Bamako — My name is Ayaba Lonlon Vendome. I am from Togo. I started serving as a volunteer in August 2016. My role as an Operations Officer in the Regional Joint Operation Center (RJOC) in MINUSMA mainly consists of gathering and analyzing information and keeping the mission's leadership informed of all related aspects on the peace and security situation in Mali. I am also in charge of coordinating field missions requested by other sections and other activities including medical evacuations from Mopti to other regions. I also intervene when a crisis occurs, alerting and informing our senior leadership, documenting their decisions and following up on the actions taken based on those decisions.

Since the beginning of the crisis in 2012, I wanted to contribute to the return of peace in Mali while working for an INGO in Bamako and all I was looking for was an opportunity to leave. I love Mali, and I have always loved the beauty of its culture and the kindness of its people. When I completed my profile in the UNV database back in 2016, I had no idea that things were going to move that fast in the months to come. I always felt at home in this country and that's the reason why, when I received an offer to volunteer in Mopti, I realized that I was not done with Mali. Therefore, I decided to take this new opportunity and contribute once more to the return of peace in Mali and support the country from another perspective. I was also certain that this opportunity of working in a section that is considered to be at the heart of the mission was going to allow me to acquire a unique and solid experience in such a multicultural and dynamic environment and boost my professional career.

Every day is a new learning opportunity

My advice to any new UNV would be to stay as professional as possible throughout the duration of his or her assignments, but also to be open to discover Mali, its rich culture and music. In two years of assignment, I've met a lot of people at different levels, have expanded my network and acquired new skills. Every day is a new learning experience, but one of the most satisfying moments is when colleagues from other sections come to me and my colleagues for advice and to provide me with positive feedback as well as to congratulate us for organizing a mission which took weeks and months to prepare. It is in those moments that we feel unutterable fulfillment, especially after hours and hours of planning meetings, checking distances and road access on maps and liaising with the Force and the Police components for their support. I have a deep sense of purpose and pride, especially when the coordination of a Medical evacuation goes well despite logistic and communication challenges in the deep field, because at the end of the day: a life was saved. Work can definitely be toughs and challenging at times, but this is how you grow and improve yourself.

A country full of surprises

One thing I will always remember when thinking about Mali is that this is place full of surprises. I used to think that this country was just a big desert and that life was harsh. I was wrong.  Yes, the weather is very hot here, but we also have heavy rains. Most people are surprised when I tell them that there are forests in Mali and that we can still find elephants in the north of the country! Yes, this is the Mali that I will always remember and take with me wherever I go. But, mostly, I do hope that my time here has contributed to bringing peace and stability to this great country that has become my second home.

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