Lone female Bangladeshi engineer says mental robustness and preparedness is key to success

3 Jul 2019

Lone female Bangladeshi engineer says mental robustness and preparedness is key to success

Beatrice Mategwa

Under the rallying motto of “always and everywhere”, 275 engineers from Bangladesh have received the United Nations medal for their year-long service to the people of South Sudan.

Standing at attention, they proudly saluted as they received their new stripes, recognizing their contribution to road and other construction work across the conflict-affected country.

“This is the result of my dedication, my sincerity,” said 38-year old Major Shahara Shafi – the only female medal recipient. “Day to day, I had to go to many different places, like Wau, Bor, Yambio and Bentiu, because there are so many repair and construction activities going on.”

Major Shahara is a career engineer in the Bangladeshi army, having served for 16 years. In South Sudan, she has liaised between colleagues working on the ground and the UNMISS Force Headquarters - supervising and coordinating building and maintenance activities on roads and other construction sites.

She says mental strength is vital to successfully carrying out her duties in the challenging environment of the world’s newest nation as well as within the male-dominated engineering and military fields.

“I am an army officer, but also an engineer,” said Major Shahara. “I don’t face any kind of problem, because I am mentally prepared to do this kind of job.”

However, she acknowledges that being so far away from home has been a challenge.

“I am married. I have two children. They are very small, and they are with my parents. I had to balance with my job and my family. I have sacrificed. They have been deprived a little. I will try my best to make it up, when I go back,” she said with a touch of emotion in her voice.

Despite the sacrifices, her advice to other women considering tough career choices is to go for it.

“Be mentally robust, mentally prepared – nothing is impossible for the ladies.”

Major Shahara and her engineering colleagues will soon depart South Sudan to return to their families – but not without leaving an uplifting message for those they have served.

“I am in love with the citizens of South Sudan and I wish and pray for their tremendous success,” she said. “This country has a lot of hope and many natural beauties, many natural resources. The people – the citizens of South Sudan - have to utilize this properly, then it will be a very developed country.”

Peacekeepers from Bangladesh have served in UN operations across the world for 31 years. They first deployed to Juba in mid-2005 and the current contingent is the 18th to serve in South Sudan.

Their work has contributed to UNMISS’ efforts to repair more than 2500 kilometres of roads across the country over the past six months. Better roads have contributed to the creation of new jobs, increased trade and opportunities for local communities to connect, reconcile and build peace.

The contribution of the Bangladesh engineers was recognized by the UNMISS Acting Force Commander, Major General Bayarsaikhan Dashdondog at the medal ceremony.

“Your medals represent the personal sacrifice you have made as part of our collective endeavor in the ‘service of peace’ and our hope of achieving peace,” he said.