By Hugo Bourhis
My name is Dimakatso Raisibe Margaret Maila from South Africa. I am 31 years old and I like running, cooking and reading. I am originally from Marulaneng Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo Province and I joined the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 2010.
How long have you been a peacekeeper and what are your responsibilities?
I started this journey last year — June 2018. Currently, I am a Platoon Commander, and I command, control and lead 38 members. I am responsible for these members’ combat readiness, their welfare and social responsibilities. I ensure that they are always battle-ready during patrols.
Why did you choose this career? How did you become a UN Peacekeeper?
I chose this career because I was inspired by other women in uniform in our society and I wanted to be part of this meaningful and exciting career. I joined peacekeeping when my Unit 7 of the South African Infantry Battalion was instructed to be ready to deploy to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for one year under the spectrum of the United Nations. We then embarked on intensive training to prepare for the operation in the DRC. It is during this preparation phase that I was made a Platoon Commander, to command and lead 38 men and women for a peacekeeping mission in the DRC.
What is your typical day like?
I wake up early in the morning to get ready for the day. I take breakfast then prepare my platoon. I ensure that everyone in my platoon is accounted for and ready for the patrols. We then conduct patrols in the villages of Mayimoya, interact with the community members and collect information on the activities of the enemy. I then compile and consolidate all the information for my Company Commander and the Intelligence Officer. A day’s patrol can last from 4 to 6 hours. We also conduct night patrols to ensure the community is well safeguarded. The night patrol can take anything from 3–4 hours.
What are some of the highlights of your service at your current peacekeeping mission? What are three things you like most about the country you are deployed in?
One of the highlights of my mission was when I was tasked, together with my platoon members, to conduct long range patrols in some of the “red spotted” areas in our area of responsibility with the aim of locating suspected armed grouping. Secondly, the fact that I am a woman and I oversee men and women brings joy to me. I also interact with local community inhabitants — the Congolese women and children, from the point of view of a mother.
What I like about this country?
The food and fruits here cannot go unnoticed. I have enjoyed every meal that I have been offered by the Congolese and they taste so good. I can never forget this country. The Congolese will always be in my heart.
What part of your job do you find most challenging and why?
In my platoon, those I am deployed with have made this job easy for me. I thought that because I am young, the older people in the platoon would undermine me but that didn’t happen. They all respect my orders and they execute them as instructed. That has made this job easier for me. However, seeing Congolese women and children homeless because of the ongoing war in the DRC tears my heart apart and reminds me of the reason my country deployed me here in the first place.
What did your family and friends back home think about your decision to leave your country and work for a UN peacekeeping mission?
It was not easy for family and friends to accept that I would be away from them for a year because it was the first time in my military career to deploy overseas. That is a long period to be away from your loved ones and it needs commitment, dedication and strength to do the work I am doing. Working in a peacekeeping mission is one of the best exposures I have ever acquired as a woman and as a uniformed member of the SANDF. I have enjoyed interacting with people of different countries from different contingents and I have learned a lot. It’s always good to see people of different nationalities united for one objective-to bring peace to the DRC.
What do you do when you have some spare time?
I spend my spare time here doing physical training to keep up my fitness level and to refresh my mind with non-work-related activities. I also make phone calls to my family and friends.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself as a young commander in one of the peacekeeping missions.
What would you say to young people considering a career in peacekeeping?
Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it is done”. When I started this career and got deployed in a peacekeeping mission, I thought it would be impossible but now it’s like a daily routine. I don’t even feel like I am working. You need commitment, dedication, strength and passion for what you do. If you are a woman of integrity and you love what you do, you will always conquer your fears. As a woman and a leader serving outside the borders of my country, I encourage all young people to join the military and be part of this exciting career in peacekeeping.
The author writes for Africa Renewal, produced by the Africa Section of the United Nations Department of Global Communications.
Originally published at https://www.un.org.