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China Daily Global / 2021-01 / 14 / Page005

Chinese peacekeeper helps protect a nation's health

By YANG ZEKUN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-14 00:00

Officer in South Sudan involved in setting up COVID-19 prevention system

The threat of the coronavirus pandemic, exotic diseases and armed conflict have not deterred Liao Jie, a Chinese police officer, from working as a peacekeeper in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, over the past year.

Liao, 35, is a logistics management officer for the UN mission in the Juba area, and her main job is allocating office supplies and protective gear issued by the UN, as well as vehicle management.

An officer at the Chongqing Municipal Public Security Bureau, she applied for a job with the United Nations Police in March 2019. Liao arrived in South Sudan in December of that year after passing a series of tests including firearms, English-language proficiency and driving skills.

She wanted to try the job after seeing a recruitment notice, but she never thought she would be accepted. Her family members were shocked when they learned she would serve as a UN police officer in South Sudan for a year.

"They mainly worry about my safety as what they are aware South Sudan is chaotic and impoverished. My 90-year-old grandmother was especially worried and asks me when I will be home on every video call," she said.

Liao was supposed to return to China at the end of last year.

However, travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many of the replacement officers not being able to arrive on time. There were three officers in her department and one left last year.

Liao was granted a six-month extension of her stay to ensure the ongoing projects and transfer of the work proceeded smoothly.

If international pandemic control measures go well this year, she will return to China in June.

"I really miss my family. Three of my family members had operations last year, but I cannot go back and take care of them," she said.

Settling in

Liao said she spent more than a month getting used to the conditions when she arrived in South Sudan.

In the beginning, she and three female colleagues lived in a converted shipping container with no running water or toilet. The harsh conditions, coupled with the fatigue from her travel and a new environment, resulted in her developing a fever and cough and skin blisters.

After several months she moved to a more secure brick dormitory.

Liao usually works from 8 am to 5 pm. Here schedule means she has no time to cook and she often eats leftovers.

When she first arrived she tried to buy food from the local market, but the choices were limited and she ate cookies and pasta every day. Liao said the monotonous diet and poor quality of the food made her sick for a while.

Residents' hygiene awareness is poor, despite the pandemic. They rarely wear masks or disinfect their hands when dealing with food, which made Liao fearful, especially after she learned from reports that COVID-19 can be transmitted from some food surfaces.

"Sometimes, I feel Chinese instant noodles are the most delicious food in the world. A colleague once brought me some Chongqing hotpot ingredients, and the taste filled me with happiness," she said.

But her new environment has also had a positive impact on Liao, broadening her horizons and allowing her to be more confident dealing with challenges.

She said although she is a logistics officer, she has tried to do as much as she can to help local women and children. She also chats with poor people and offers assistance in order to promote the peace process.

Open dangers

Many people in the Juba area are armed and fire their weapons without warning if they feel offended, Liao said.

Theft and robbery are also common in the area. On a rainy night in May, someone broke into Liao's dormitory, which is located near a refugee camp, and stole two of her laptops and a briefcase.

She said she walked out of the bathroom after taking a shower, to find a safety screen on her dormitory window broken and her desk in disarray.

Liao said it was lucky that she didn't have to confront the burglar, who may have been armed.

She said she often heard gunshots in the area. In June, Liao witnessed a bullet hitting the house of her Indian neighbor who was drinking coffee at the time. "I felt like I was a moving target, having no idea when and where a bullet may travel toward me. The scenario that I lived through during that period was like a movie," she said.

Protective measures

Liao only took enough personal and medical supplies to last three months to Juba, because she anticipated returning to China for her holidays to restock. But travel restrictions forced by the pandemic stymied her plan.

At the beginning of the pandemic, South Sudanese and most UN officers didn't take it seriously and refused to wear masks or socially distance. However, Liao kept her guard up and reminded people around her to take protective measures. In the first few months of the pandemic, some UN officers were infected with COVID-19, and there was a shortage of protective gear, Liao said.

She collected information on pandemic prevention and control measures that had worked well in China and helped establish a prevention system in the task area.

"First of all, I am a UN police officer and I am also here to represent China," she said, adding Chinese people are modest, but must speak up when necessary.

"Some things can only be accomplished if we take the initiative to do them," she said.

Liao said a UN officer from Egypt, after witnessing what she had done, told her China's national flag represented professionalism.

"My outgoing personality has also affected him, which makes me feel encouraged," Liao said.

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Liao Jie working as a logistics management officer for the UN mission in the Juba area, South Sudan. CHINA DAILY

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