Vietnamese “blue beret” soldiers with aspirations for world peace

"These words are written on a blackboard at a school in Bentiu town in South Sudan. Just a few words, but they leave a strong impression. They reflect a desire to live in peace, with stability and development, by not only children but all people of South Sudan. Due to the ongoing conflict since the country declared independence in 2011, its children have no or little opportunity to access an adequate education."

The remark was made by Senior Lieutenant Dr Tu Quang, Head of the Level-2 Field Hospital No 2’s Air Rescue Team, who has just finished his time at the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, said the Vietnam News Agency.

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong holds a South Sudanese baby during her first day-long patrol as a military observer, in December 2019. (Photo by courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong)

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong holds a South Sudanese baby during her first day-long patrol as a military observer, in December 2019. (Photo by courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong)

In South Sudan since November 2019, Dr Quang was in charge of Civilian Military Coordination (CIMIC), which plays a role as an interface between the military and civilian components of peacekeeping operations.

“The school we visited is an example of the mounting difficulties people here are facing,” he said.

With more than 1,600 students, Bentiu B Primary School has just three blocks. All are in various stages of disrepair from war and conflict, and the school cannot afford to fix them. COVID-19, meanwhile, has been sweeping across the country since April last year and the school has been deserted as a result.

With a hope of helping local students have better conditions to study, Vietnamese officers and soldiers at the Level-2 Field Hospital No. 2 acted as carpenters to make tables and chairs from recycled wooden boxes. Finally, after nearly 12 months, 31 sets of tables and chairs and 100 sets of alphabet letters for learning were made.

At a handover ceremony for the new tables and chairs, students also received gift bags in which, in addition to books and pens, was a sheet of paper introducing Vietnam and President Ho Chi Minh.

“When you read this paper, you will see that Vietnam is a country located on the Pacific coast and has an area only half the size of South Sudan,” a representative from the Vietnamese hospital said at the ceremony. “The two countries are more than ten thousand kilometres apart. This distance is very far, but we hope that it will be shortened by knowledge gathered from books read on these tables and chairs and recorded in these notebooks. With knowledge, you can help your family and rebuild South Sudan. One day, we believe we will be able to welcome you to visit Vietnam. Do you agree?” The question was met with loud applause as soon as the interpreter had finished.

As a country that has itself gone through war, Vietnam understands the value of peace. Soldiers who were born when the country was free from gunfire appreciate what today’s generation enjoys. People can go to work or to school and live in a peaceful society. Therefore, when participating in the United Nations peacekeeping mission, despite the harsh conditions, Vietnamese “blue beret” soldiers are fully aware of their responsibilities and their noble mission.

In its seven years of involvement in peacekeeping operations, since 2014, Vietnam has sent 53 military officers to South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

There have also been 189 Vietnamese officers and doctors joining Level-2 Field Hospitals No 1, 2 and 3 in South Sudan.

Participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations means realising the Party’s guidelines on the protection of the Fatherland soon and from afar by peaceful means. It is also an expression of the humanity of the Vietnam People’s Army and Vietnamese peoples’ love of peace.

Witnessing first-hand the poverty and suffering of people in areas heavily affected by sectarian conflict and political instability, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Minh Phuong has many unforgettable memories from her time as a military observer with the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

From conducting regular patrols in the area, including both short-term and long-term reconnaissance, Lieutenant Colonel Phuong had the opportunity to interact with local authorities and people, thereby understanding the situation and the thoughts and aspirations of local people.

“The image of a young woman of 16-18 holding twins as small as two new-born kittens and crying bitterly because she didn’t have enough milk because there was nothing to eat made my heart sink,” Lieutenant Colonel Phuong recalled.

Realising the extremely important and meaningful mission of peacekeepers, she promised herself she would make every effort to complete her task well, contributing to speeding up the implementation of peace deals and rebuilding South Sudan so that people can soon enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life.

Every nation needs to protect people and ensure they live in a peaceful environment and are less susceptible to non-traditional challenges.

According to Major General Hoang Kim Phung, Director of the Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations, besides carrying out UN mission, Vietnam’s peacekeeping force provided major support to local residents, such as teaching and taking care of kids and instructing people on how to plant vegetables, among other things. Such things contributed to creating a beautiful image of Uncle Ho’s soldiers.

“Vietnam’s peacekeeping force has worked to improve the country’s position in promoting the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including maintaining sustainable peace around the world,” said Major General Phung.

Fulfilling the United Nations peacekeeping mission and returning to their homeland, many Vietnamese “blue beret” soldiers brought with them a host of memories. Perhaps the greatest concern of those soldiers is how to make people in South Sudan in particular and countries in conflict around the world enjoy peace, prosperity, and happiness. That noble mission is being continued by generations of Vietnam People’s Army soldiers in the uniform of the United Nations “blue beret” force./.


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