“IF THERE WAS NO UN, THE WORLD WOULD HAVE TO CREATE ONE”—DEBORAH SCHEIN, HEAD, UNMISS BOR,
By Priyanka Chodhury,
Dec 10, 2020(Nyamilepedia) —A New Yorker by birth, Deborah Schein had a natural interest in travel, history and politics.
After completing her master’s degree in International affairs from the prestigious Columbia University, she started her career as a policy analyst but it was short-lived.
A mentor at her alma mater introduced her to the Head of the Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations. That meeting was the beginning of Deborah’s long career with UN Peacekeeping and she deployed to Angola as an Electoral Officer in 1992.
To date Deborah has served in six peacekeeping missions—Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia and currently, South Sudan. “The women in my family would have been happier if I had chosen a different career,” she laughs.
“But I have been privileged to see the best of what the UN can accomplish, saving lives of people and creating conditions for peace and prosperity. I have also witnessed failures of the institution. But I firmly believe that if there was no UN, the world would have to create one. The UN goes where other interventions have failed and the situation is fragile.”
Deborah leads the UNMISS Field Office in Bor, Pibor and Akobo. It’s a challenging and dynamic role with numerous political, administrative and managerial challenges. “This year, the challenges of managing a field office during a global pandemic was unlike any other experience I have encountered. The pandemic restricted our movement and interactions with people. Programmes were put on hold or modified,” she reveals.
She felt that a duty of care weighed heavily on her in 2020. “We needed to find a way to continue vital life-saving work while ensuring the safety of all our staff civilian and uniformed personnel.”
One of the hardest moments she has faced — losing a staff member to COVID-19.
“It’s been a tough time because all our staff have functioned under tremendous pressure away from their families for months while we’ve also had to contend with floods and intercommunal violence, both of which have caused large-scale displacements,” she reveals. “When you add political upheavals and the lag in appointing subnational transitional government of national unity, you could say I have had quite a lot on my plate,” continues Deborah.
Has she ever felt that her gender limited her from achieving her goals? “I’m not going to deny that working in an international environment comes with its challenges. Many people have their biases,” she states.
“But I’ve been fortunate to work with senior people, both civilian and uniformed, who judge me on my merit, my experience and my decisions. Add strong support from female colleagues to the mix, and I feel pretty lucky,” she says with a smile.
When asked about her views on women in South Sudan, Deborah recalls a woman separated from her three children during armed conflict in Malakal who managed to make her way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She didn’t rest till she returned to South Sudan and approached UNMISS. Deborah and her team made sure they listened to the young mother and soon reunited her with her children.
“Her two oldest children recognized her and the youngest did not know his own mother. Everyone had thought she died in the fracas. It was her strong will and determination to find her children that carried her back to Malakal,” recalls Deborah.
“Women suffer more in an armed conflict, but so many are strong and resilient. With education and opportunities women can do so much more in South Sudan,” she states.
Her message to South Sudanese women – “Demand an education, be confident in your own abilities and pursue your dreams.”