“I love mechanics,” says Sergeant Almaz Kabtimer Desta from Ethiopia who is currently serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Field Office in Yambio, Western Equatoria. Sergeant Desta admits that her passion for mechanics can be seen as an unusual choice for a woman: “I know that anything to do with cars and mechanics has usually been viewed as a masculine domain but it’s really my dream job,” she states.
The enthusiastic 26-year-old fixes and maintains an average of four vehicles per day to ensure UNMISS peacekeepers can patrol the region, providing protection to vulnerable civilians consistently. “It gives me immense pleasure to be able to fix a car and make sure my uniformed and civilian colleagues can use it to perform the important tasks they are mandated to do here in South Sudan,” says Sergeant Desta.
Sergeant Desta joined the Ethiopian army six years ago after completing a two-year course in auto mechanics. “I joined the military because it is a calling; I wanted to serve my country and the military gave me the platform to combine my love for mechanics and fixing things with my zeal to work for people who need help,” she reveals.
One of 47 female peacekeepers from Ethiopia deployed to Yambio, Sergeant Desta says she is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a United Nations peacekeeper. “South Sudan is a beautiful country full of warm-hearted people whose lives have been devastated by conflict. Anything I can do for the South Sudanese people is very small. But I have been deeply moved by their acceptance of me as a role model of sorts as they see me work shoulder-to-shoulder with my male counterparts.”
While Sergeant Desta is a committed peacekeeper, she admits that being away from her family and loved ones, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is difficult. “This is health crisis that has rarely been seen by any living soul in the world and it is very worrying to be away from my family. However, daily video calls to them have been one of my lifelines and I make sure I keep passing on all the knowledge UNMISS senior leadership is sharing with us about the preventative measures against this virus,” she avers.
Despite the hardships and sacrifices that being a peacekeeper entails, Sergeant Desta is quick to recommend it as a career option for young women across the globe. “No other job will make you learn as much, develop as much empathy for human suffering and give you the satisfaction that you have done your best to help those who need your assistance the most – this is the essence of UN Peacekeeping and I hope more young women will sign up for it,” she states.