In Focus: International Women's Day--Martina Sandoval, El Salvador

UNMISS COVID-19 peacekeepers peacekeeping South Sudan Women's Day Female Peacekeepers El Salvador

Martina Sandoval is a police officer from El Salvador serving with UNMISS. This committed UNPOL officer says that being a peacekeeper is one of the most professionally rewarding experiences she has had. Photo by Gregorio Cunha/UNMISS.

2 Mar 2021

In Focus: International Women's Day--Martina Sandoval, El Salvador

Priyanka Chowdhury

Deputy Inspector Martina de Maria Sandoval Linares from El Salvador has an eight-year-old daughter and comes from a large family. This committed UNPOL officer speaks about what motivates her and why, despite the sacrifices it entails, being a peacekeeper is one of the most professionally rewarding experiences she has had.

What prompted you to become a police officer?

I always wanted to wear a uniform. A career counsellor gave me some sound advice when I was a student; he told me to finish my university degree before I made any decisions about a career as uniformed personnel. I took his words seriously but upon finishing a degree in Business Administration, I did a bit of soul-searching about what I wanted to do with my life. The answer was clear: I wanted to help people. I didn’t waste any more time and joined the National Academy of Public Security in 2007. I finished my training two years later and I’ve now been a full-fledged police officer for a while now.

Were your family and friends supportive of your career?

Honestly, the decision to join the police was a very personal one. I come from a large family and my mother was the only one who knew what I was planning. When my father found out, he wasn’t very happy initially, but caved in when he saw how determined I was and even supported me financially for a while.

How did you become a UN peacekeeper? Is this your first mission?

Yes, UNMISS is my first mission. In 2015, I saw an announcement on one of our intra-police channels requesting applications for UN peacekeeping missions from interested officers. I immediately knew that this was a great opportunity for me to work at the international level and sent in all the required paperwork. It took a couple of years to be deployed but I reached South Sudan in December 2019.

What are your responsibilities in the mission and what is your typical day like?
It’s been a challenging time because as an UNPOL officer, I work directly with displaced people. Last year saw many of the UN Protection Sites transitioning into more conventional camps for displaced people under the sovereign control of South Sudan. I’m part of the assessment team office and we are tasked with collecting and analyzing information on any serious incident that takes place in the Juba IDP camp. We’re here to protect them and make sure that the security situation inside the camp remains stable.

How has your tour of duty been so far? What are the main challenges and what do you like most about being in South Sudan?

I think the biggest challenge has been the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus first took hold in South Sudan there was limited knowledge about how to keep ourselves as well as the communities we serve safe. But we rallied, made sure we had access to masks, gloves, sanitizers and everything we needed to be able to continue doing our jobs. I’m very proud of the team I work with; it hasn’t been easy but because we come from so many different countries, we were able to pool in all our policing experiences to make sure we function smoothly. South Sudan has a special place in my heart—the people and the warmth I’ve experienced here reminds me of where I grew up. Plus, I’ve made friends for life from across the world.

What, in your opinion, is the impact female peacekeepers on the local population?

I think the biggest impact we have as women in peacekeeping is that we inspire young women and girls to think of becoming like us. They see us leading a life of service, of being committed to a cause that’s greater than the individual. There is power in what a woman wearing the Blue Beret represents to a young girl in a remote village.

What would you say to young girls and women considering a career in peacekeeping?

Follow your dreams and don’t limit yourselves. Peacekeeping can be difficult—you will learn to live to distant lands with people you don’t know, you’ll have to overcome numerous hurdles and take risks—but it will change your life in ways you have never imagined