“I am highly honored to acquire the big [UN] family’s medal. It means that we are the best police officers of our country.”
Vera Ayensu, a Deputy Superintendent of the Ghanaian police service, has reasons to be proud, not only for having received a UN medal for serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, together with her 23 compatriots and police peers.
The 47-year-old mother of three, who lost her husband a year ago before starting her work as coordinator of different Formed Police Units in Wau, epitomizes the spirit of her perfectly gender-balanced contingent. During a previous sting in South Sudan, between 2015 and 2017, she was the first female police officer to be part of a Ghanaian Formed Police Unit. Such units are cohesive groups of officers directly involved in intense and often heavy-duty operational police activities.
As a uniformed woman in a peacekeeping mission, she wants to inspire others, showing women that they are capable of anything that men can do, and quite possibly more.
“I decided to join the police service because I have the passion to work, and as a female I wanted to become a role model for other ladies to emulate,” she says. “When the women in the protection of civilians site see me at dawn, in charge of and training male colleagues, they look at me as a motivator and inspiration.”
With children at home and a solid 25 years of police experience under her belt, one would be forgiven for wondering why Vera Aysenu has decided to dedicate several of her peak years to serving with three different UN peacekeeping missions. The answer turns out to be a quest for seemingly lifelong learning.
“I’m passionate about the UN because it is a platform for learning, a place where you acquire new knowledge to add to your policing skills in your country. So, in my lifetime I have decided to work with the UN with all my heart and my strength,” she explains.
The multicultural aspect of working for the United Nations is another strong pull factor for Vera, who would happily take on future stints in other peacekeeping missions.
“Here I work with colleagues from different countries. I learn new skills, and a lot about different cultures, unlike back home,” she says, but adds that the innate dynamics of multiculturalism also pose challenges.
“Sometimes communication within the team can be a problem. There are many accents, and gestures we use in Ghana may not mean the same thing here, or in the home countries of my colleagues.”
Vera follows in the footsteps of the 5,247 other Ghanaian police officers who have served with UN peacekeeping operations on four different continents since 1960, a total of 224 of whom have done so in South Sudan. Over the many years of contributing police officers to peacekeeping missions, eight uniformed Ghanaian men and women have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The current contingent in South Sudan, twelve men and twelve women, is deployed in Juba and seven of the UNMISS field offices across the country. The Ghanaian police officers are engaged in a variety of tasks - including but not limited to patrolling, community policing, protection of civilians and capacity building of their South Sudanese colleagues.