From JEAN KASSONGO in Bangui, CAR
BANGUI, (CAJ News) – IN one of the most horrendous cases highlighting children being caught up in the escalating crisis in war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) has emerged a heroine who has embarked on a perilous mission to save millions of minors exposed to daily killings, rape and abductions among other violations.
Recruited by Christian diehards and Muslim extremists as well as by government forces, children are sent as cannon fodder to the frontline, and daily scurry for cover as rival forces exchange gunfire.
CAR’s children, afflicted by what is the most severe conflicts in the world currently, have grown up in the context of almost permanent war.
In one of the most atrocious violations, in 2015, armed groups abducted an eight-year-old girl during an inter-communal clash that also saw the minor lose her father.
The girl was abducted and kept in a community 60km away.
Abductors demanded ransom from the poor family.
In a society largely patriarchal, it took the intervention of the unlikeliest of champions -a young woman- to rescue the minor, without payment of ransom.
To the heroine, Langsi Emmanuella (30), it was baptism of fire, the ordeal coming as soon as she resumed duty with the UN Peacekeeping mission in CAR (Minusca).
The breakthrough buoyed her mission to protect children in the ungovernable country.
“Barely after a month in the field, I had to initiate dialogue to secure the release of the girl,” she said.
“Though the armed group had requested for the payment of a ransom before releasing the minor, I had to apply my dialogue and negotiation skills because armed groups are not to be paid ransoms,” Emmanuella, the Minusca child protection officer.
The fact that the girl was kept far from her duty station, meant she had to travel and conduct the negotiations on bad and bumpy roads.
“I set out very early accompanied by military escorts, with my heart panting if I was really going to succeed in my assignment,” Emmanuella said.
This would however be among the major achievements in Minusca’s quest to rescue minors trapped in the conflict.
“After several hours of dialogue, negotiating and raising awareness on the criminality of abducting children, the minor was finally handed over to me. I felt happy within and we immediately took off for my duty station,” said Emmanuella.
Nevertheless, there was no time for celebrations as she would later embark on another arduous task to reunite minor and mother.
The minor was released to a children’s rights organisation and placed with a host family while the family tracing and reunification processes was initiated.
“After two months of continuous tracing, mother was found in the eastern part of the country and invited to come over for the family reunification. It was indeed a very happy event to watch both reunite after eight months of separation, each thinking the other was dead as a result of the clash.”
This stands out as the proudest moment of her role in CAR.
“I felt proud because I was able to use my dialogue and negotiation skills and returned with the girl and eventually watched her reunite with her mother.”
A lawyer by profession, with a Masters in in Peacebuilding attained in the United Kingdom and a Master’s degree in Public International Law as well degree in Common Law from the University of Yaoundé in her homeland Cameroon, Emmanuella disclosed while growing up she always had a desire to become a judge and to work with the UN legal services.
In 1999, while in Grade Seven, she stumbled on a book titled “Basic Facts about the UN”, which belonged to her senior brother, who was studying Political Science at university.
“I copied out the address of the UN Public information section in New York and wrote to them. I wanted my own copy of the book too. I remember using my allowance for lunch to buy stamps at a local post office to post letters to the UN. Surprisingly, a copy of the book was mailed to me using my school address,” she said.
Emannuella herself had to overcome the setback of failing the entrance exams into the famous School of Administration and Magistracy and International Relations Institute of Cameroon IRIC
Students at IRIC and ENAM also perceived to be part of a select group of students whose degrees can lead them to achieve extraordinary goals.
She became frustrated and admired friends making it into these schools but Emmanuella never forgot her dream and kept focused.
‘I invested my little allowances in cyber cafes, buying data surfing the internet for job opportunities and short courses, as I couldn’t afford a laptop of my own,” she said with a smile.
“Sometimes I got selected for training opportunities but due to financial constraints, I hardly attended those trainings. Sometimes I was invited for interviews but didn’t get the jobs at the end. It was frustrating but I was determined.”
In 2012, she stumbled on the African Union Youth programme and ten months later, was selected to attend a fully sponsored pre-deployment training in Porto Novo, Benin in December.
“It was my first time traveling out of my country.”
After the training, she was offered the position of Legal Associate and deployed to the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“It was a new journey, to work with people from diverse backgrounds, to live far away from your family, and to face the challenges of growing in the international development world as a woman in a purely male dominated environment,” Emmanuella said.
Still with her desire to work with the UN, she gradually started preparing herself for peacekeeping by undertaking short courses on peacekeeping, peace support operations, humanitarian assistance, Rule of Law, refugee protection and sometimes paid for courses.
“I also embarked on obtaining a second masters in peacebuilding and things started falling in place.
In March 2015, her dream eventually materialised but it was a move to the CAR a conflict country, a non-family duty station characterized with little or no basic amenities.
“Moving to the CAR, was a very tough decision to make. However bearing in mind my drive, I took up the position. I equally saw it as an opportunity for me to contribute to the goals of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which emphasized on the greater participation of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.”
As a child protection officer with the UN Stabilization mission, her principle task is to support the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1612 on the grave child rights violations through the monitoring and reporting mechanism as well as other subsequent child protection security council resolutions on children and armed conflict.
“The fate of children in times of armed conflict and in the post-conflict phase solely lies in the hands of peacekeepers.
“Child protection in a peacekeeping mission is interconnected, and as part of my work, I mainstream child protection needs by conducting child protection trainings to all newly deployed peacekeepers in the military, police and civilian components on child protection,” she explained.
Among her roles is to initiate dialogue and advocacy with parties to conflict, secure the release of children associated with armed groups, ensure juveniles detained in conflict with the law are treated in accordance with applicable international human rights standards, support the family tracing and reunification of unaccompanied and separated minors as well as the reintegration into communal life for child soldiers.
“Working in the development sector is usually not a piece of cake especially for women. Sometimes the men you look up to as mentors who could push you up may want to exchange sex for jobs or even recommending you, and it can be so frustrating,” Emmanuella confided.
“Sometimes you have to sacrifice your love life, family life and many other things. However, one of the keys to balancing and overcoming challenges is to know your worth and believe you can break through even on bumpy roads and secondly you need to have a personal development plan, which sometimes may not be easy to achieve all, but it however keeps you on the track.”
She also bemoaned growing up in a society still very patriarchal and the contribution of women hardly taken into consideration.
“Sometimes I worked in teams where I was the only lady and I was always treated like the weaker sex, who can’t be vested with certain responsibilities because I am a woman. It frustrates but I always prove to my male colleagues and peers by always initiating actions and taking the lead in many assignments to ascertain my capacity to do anything without barriers.”
Emmanuella said her passion kept her motivated.
“I know where I am heading to, I hardly take no for an answer and I believe I am a go getter. I know I can’t solve all the problems of children in the CAR, but with my little contribution in their daily lives, they can feel the impact.”
She expressed hope of a better future for the children in a country where over half the population of 5 million is displaced.
“I also see hope among the children. There is a legitimate government in place although the institutions are weak, but i have so much hope.”
– CAJ News
From JEAN KASSONGO in Bangui, CAR