Interview: Lt. Col. Katie Hislop, only female contingent commander serving with UNMISS

Interview: Lt. Col. Katie Hislop, only female contingent commander serving with UNMISS

Interview: Lt. Col. Katie Hislop, only female contingent commander serving with UNMISS

19 Sep 2017

Interview: Lt. Col. Katie Hislop, only female contingent commander serving with UNMISS

Daniel Dickinson

Lieutenant Colonel Katie Hislop, is the only female contingent commander with the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. She is commanding the UK Engineering Task Force which arrived in South Sudan in May.

One of her tasks has been to oversee the building of a hospital for UN staff in Bentiu which opened in early July. In this exclusive interview, she explains in more detail what her job entails.

Q: What can you tell us about the newly constructed hospital?

Lt Col Katie Hislop: One of our first engineering tasks was to put up a tented hospital in Bentiu in order to treat the UNMISS staff.  It’s one of a number of engineering projects we are doing in Bentiu and in Malakal as well.

Those other tasks include building additional helicopter landing sites and digging drainage channels which is a huge challenge particularly at this time of year during the rainy season.

The UK Engineering Task Force includes electricians, as well as builders, bricklayers, concreters, plumbers, so people who can work across a huge range of construction projects that we hope to be involved in over the next few months while we are here.

Q: Can you describe the hospital?

KH: The hospital has an emergency department which can treat catastrophic injuries and serious diseases. It also includes a surgical facility. More routine complaints and injuries can also be treated. Prior to the hospital being there, there simply wasn't a facility to treat UN staff. If someone is particularly seriously injured, it may well be that they are then transferred to a bigger facility, maybe in Nairobi for instance.

Q: How does the hospital benefit the local population?

KH: Our mandate here as the United Nations UK Engineering Taskforce is to enable UNMISS staff, including peacekeepers, to get on with their jobs, to provide wider protection round the POC camp. In order to do that they need really good infrastructure; they also need to know that there is medical care should they require it.

If a local person is seriously injured and the injury is deemed to be either life threatening or threatens their eyesight or potentially could lead to the loss of a limb then we would offer treatment. But virtually next door to our site is a hospital, provided by a humanitarian agency specifically for residents of the POC. That hospital has very similar facilities to the one that we are running.

Q: How has your experience as a female commander in South Sudan been?

KH: I recognise that women are still a minority in most of the armed forces across the world so in some ways it’s a privileged position. Fortunately, for me in the UK, it’s a fairly normal position I find myself in. If there’s anything that I could do to be a role model for young women who perhaps don't think that a military career is possible, then I would be happy to do that.

In terms of my experiences out here, one of the best parts of the deployment so far has been being so warmly welcomed by all those people that we meet, both the local population but also the other contingents out here, which have a huge amount of experience working for the UN.

We are a very new member of the UNMISS team here from Britain, so it’s delightful to hear from the Indian Engineers for instance, to learn from them and also to work with a whole host of civilian staff from UNMISS. We are really enjoying that despite the heat, the environment, and the weather which continues to be a challenge as it continues to bounce between rain and hot sunshine.

Q: What inspired you to join the army?

KH: I was inspired to join the Army because I thought that it would give me an outdoor life, a real challenge, something physical, but to be an engineer in the army is to deliver something really tangible, something that people can see and will really benefit from. To be able to do that across the world, I think is a great privilege. It really is a pleasure to command such bright, motivated and disciplined soldiers.   

I’m really enjoying the challenge so far and particularly to be in a country where it has so much potential. It’s a beautiful environment but i can see that we are here to help people who are so desperately in need at the moment.