“My parents – with a lot of sacrifice on their part – were able to get me to high school during the period of extreme turmoil in my country. After that I started doing a number of jobs to help financially.”
Elfrida braided her hair and taught young children in her community, often returning home late at night for fear of being raped at a time when sexual violence was rampant in Liberia.
Rachel Briggs, another UN police officer from Liberia who was deployed to South Sudan, has a similar story. I had many dreams, but the war in my country broke them. I separated from my mother in 1990 and to this day I don’t know if she is alive or dead. I’m still looking for her, but my life has evolved,” she reveals.
For UN police officer Alfred Tozai, memories of the dead, property destroyed and extreme starvation still resound.
“Liberia, when I was growing up, was a never-ending horror story. My parents didn’t have enough food for us, I went into the bush, and made charcoal to sell on the streets. I sold bread on the roadside. But even so, there wasn’t enough of food at all,” she says.
But their lives changed after the deployment of the former United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in September 2003. The mandate of the United Nations in Liberia was to monitor the ceasefire agreement after the Second Liberian Civil War.
But peacekeepers on the ground did not broker a hard-won peace for the beleaguered country; They were a beacon of hope for the Liberian people, especially women.
Elfrida, Rachel and Alfreda joined UNMIL police training and were among the first women to join the Liberian National Police.
Today, these outstanding women are part of the first ever deployment of United Nations police officers from Liberia to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
South Sudan, specifically Bor in Jonglei State, where the three are based, hold a special place in their hearts.
United Nations Mission in South Sudan
“If we can do that, you can too.”
“When I got to Bor and started patrolling the communities, I knew exactly what they were going through because I and all the Liberian people suffered the same way,” Elfrida explains. “It has 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 that, you can do that too,” she adds.
For Rachel, showing empathy for the South Sudanese communities she serves has been both challenging and rewarding. “After my first patrol in Bor, I went back to my condo at the Mission and cried,” she says.
It was like watching history repeat itself in South Sudan. But I knew I could make a difference and bring hope to the communities that live here. Tell them about my childhood, and I can’t stop insisting on one point: Forget about the past and unite to build a better future for your children,” she says passionately.
“Our experience of a 14-year civil war and the impact of UN peacekeeping forces is real and tangible for the people we serve on the ground,” Alfreda adds. “We have benefited greatly from our peacekeepers, and we are honored to now serve in this young nation under the famous blue flag.”
Elfrida, Rachel and Alfrida were among nine Liberian UN police officers recently awarded the prestigious UN Medal for their service to the cause of building lasting peace in South Sudan.
“Our nomination to the UNMISS shortlist 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 the UN,” continues Rachel with a smile.
We have learned a lot from the peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Liberia. Now, as UNMISS peacekeepers, it is time for us to return the favor to South Sudan.”
United Nations Mission in South Sudan
“No more joy”
The medal ceremony for these nine outstanding Liberian police officers marked a poignant moment, when Murad Ishik, the United Nations Police Chief of Staff at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan – who previously worked with the United Nations Mission in Liberia from 2004 to 2005 – was installed as an instructor for the Service Training Academy Liberian Police – Wissam is one of his former students, Togba Masakwe.
“There could be no greater joy than seeing Togba serve so ably as my deputy in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, helping to create a more peaceful and prosperous South Sudan. Togba and all the Liberian winners are vivid examples of the power of peace.
The ceremony was attended by UNMISS Police Commissioner Christine Fossen and Deputy Special Representative and Resident Coordinator for South Sudan Sarah Bisulo Nyanti of Liberia.