Lt Cdr Norhasram binti Mohd Muharami, 42, from Malaysia’s Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), addressing her unit in Lebanon

 

I am just a normal joe writing this article, in a comfy office trying to find a simple angle to a story. It was then i realized in all my daily complaints in life, I am blessed.

On a normal day, many of us go to work, some nearby, some further than most. For me, I travel from Damansara to the UNDP office in Putrajaya. It’s quite a distance when just a year ago, our office was based in Damansara Heights. From a 10-minute drive to and from work has now changed to a 45 minute – 1 hour plus drive depending on traffic.

Depending on the distance, we complain about the time taken, the toll charges and the traffic jam. But, we still get to go back and see our loved ones at the end of the day. For most of us, it is the best thing to look forward too. And as we are all humans, we take this for granted. We should consider ourselves the lucky ones.

Imagine leaving your home for a year and can’t come back. Imagine serving as a UN Peacekeeper thousands of miles away. Imagine being a single mother with three kids and deployed to serve as a UN Peacekeeper thousands of miles away. Imagine being able to see your loved ones only through video and WhatsApp texts for a year.

This story is not about making you sad. Its about showing a woman who has courage and heart to do what most of us would not. Meet Lt Cdr Norhasram binti Mohd Muharami, 42, from Malaysia’s Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), did all the above – leave her three kids behind, to serve at a UN Peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for a year.

I’ve always wanted to do a short story about her experiences in RMN after I met her a few times at UNDP’s project on Multidimensional Peacekeeping Training back in 2015. She was a participant at the training which was to ensure peacekeepers are aware of the gender, cultural sensitivities when serving and protection of civilians. Overall, I was just awed by the presence of people in uniform from countries across Africa and Asia and the Pacific decked in their official outfits, but she caught my eye as a Malaysian.

Norhasram was one of 24 Malaysian women deployed with Malaysian Battalion (MALBATT) in Lebanon (the country, not in Kansas for all you Supernatural series fans). Leaving her three children and travel over 7500km for in September 2017 for a year of deployment was bittersweet but proved to be one of the best times of her life. She returned to Malaysia on September 28, 2018.

A lifelong Navy officer, she joined RMN at the age of 19 and is now appointed as SO1 HR Policy at Human Resource Division RMN Headquarters in MINDEF. Grateful at being deployed for the first time as a UN Peacekeeper, Norhasram told me, “I was deployed as SO2 Admin Malaysian Battalion (MALBATT) at UNIFIL for a year and I am ever so thankful to the Royal Malaysian Navy for giving me this opportunity to serve under UN. I have never been so proud!”

Lt Cdr Norhasram binti Mohd Muharami and her 3 children before deployment to Lebanon

I asked her about her kids. As a single mom with three schooling kids, where were they staying? Who took care of them? Those were the questions in my mind.

A hint of sadness was in her eyes, but you could also see that she was proud of her kids while she was away. “Leaving my children behind of course is the saddest moment as we have never been apart for this long. Because of my nature of duty, I had to send my children to a boarding school. I had to make sure their education and their welfare were taken care off even when I’m not around. It was a tough decision to make but deep in my heart I knew my children had strong hearts. But I feel blessed, because I have supportive family and children.  My family and my children understand me, and they support my passion of becoming a peacekeeper.  During my tour in Lebanon my parents and my siblings will help me look after them. My kids were independent and would go to my parents’ house or my sister’s and stay with them during school holidays.

Did I miss them? Yes of course, I missed them a lot!!! Sometimes I would get emotional because of that.  We hardly talked to each other because they were not allowed to used phones at school. But I am lucky because teachers and warden understand my children’s situation. So, I can easily contact them via whatsapp call through the warden or my parent when they were at home.”

Norhasram then explained to me how she was prepped for the deployment and the difference between Navy and Peacekeeping training, “As peacekeeper we must go through pre-deployment training.  The training was divided into 2 phases i.e. single service training and force integration training (FIT) with sister services, the army and air force.  During the 6-month training we were trained in numerous common military training and expertise training.  As part of the FIT is we have to undergo UN core pre-deployment training (CPTM).  This CPTM is developed in order to prepare troop contributing country (TCC) before their deployment in the mission area.  Among the mandatory modules are protection of civilian, gender and cultural diversity.

For me it is a totally different type of training that we have in the navy.  In the navy, we trained our soldiers to carry out maritime operation and perform their job based on their skills.  But in the peacekeeping operation soldiers were trained to carry out military duty to support and protect mandates in mission area.”

Trivia 1: Did you know that military officers to be deployed must undergo training to become UN peacekeeper? Yeah, you don’t just go.

Trivia 2: Where do they train? Do you know Malaysia homes one of the Peacekeeping Training Centre? It is based in lovely Port Dickson. It is not just for Malaysian’s but also for countries from Africa and Asia and the Pacific. The centre was launched back in February 2006.

Norhasram with fellow female participants of UNDP's multidimensional peacekeeping training in 2015

She was also able to use her knowledge from the UNDP modules she learned on gender, cultural diversity when serving and protection of civilians during her deployment. The UNDP project was in two phases.  

From 2010 to 2012, UNDP Malaysia and the Malaysian Ministry of Defense with the support of the UNDP-Japanese Partnership Fund, successfully implemented the Capacity Building Support for Malaysia’s Role in Multidimensional Peacekeeping Training project. This Phase 1 project supported the role of the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre (MPC) in providing multidimensional peacekeeping training to peacekeeping personnel and trainers from 30 countries in Asia and Africa. The project covered two important areas of peacekeeping operations i.e. civil-military coordination and gender.

Building on the success of the project implemented with the Malaysian Ministry of Defense and MPC under Phase 1, the project sought the support of the Government of Malaysia to further strengthen its capacity in providing multidimensional peacekeeping training, particularly to peacekeeping personnel from Asia and Africa, as they form the largest number of peacekeeping troops today via Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre in Phase 2 of the project.

There was excellent implementation of the Phase 2 project over the span of 18 months.  The governments of Japan, Norway and Malaysia sponsored Phase 2. The project demonstrated exemplary results and facilitated South-South Cooperation from Malaysia to other countries, especially for capacity building and training on Gender, Cultural Diversity and Protection of Civilians.  The project built capacities of 634 participants; 88 internationals and 546 nationals from 30 countries.

Norhasram commented “I think the UNDP project was excellent and the modules relevant for military to carry out their duty in any mission environment all around the world.  I had the opportunity to attend 3 main modules under this project. It is TOT course and this course is to prepare AF Officers for their future deployment and as trainers.

As we know in many mission, gender and cultural diversity has become the focus of the UN.  Most missions have this mandate, which requires UN peacekeeper to respond proactively to support and protect the mandates.  Through my experience, knowledge that I have obtained during the course benefit me a lot during my tour in UNIFIL.  It gave me better understanding on specific issues and be able to apply it as part of my duty as Gender Focal Point in Malaysian Battalion.

These training modules should be continued on regular basis and broaden to other agencies like police and NGO's as well. Continuous training will enhance military personnel awareness on gender and cultural sensitivity.” 

Norhasram going through UNDP's Peacekeeping Training in 2014/15

It was great to hear her talk how the UNDP project had an impact when she was deployed. I tried to get hold of her when she was in Lebanon in 2017, but my colleague informed me that it was hard to do that and had to wait till she completed her deployment. Now that she is, I asked her about her experience in Lebanon.

Norhasram told me, “There’s a lot of interesting story that I have experienced during my tour.  For me it was a great year because I have learned lots of new things in the mission area like adapt to different culture, sharing of knowledge & information, exchange of military capability etc.   Despite of bittersweet leaving family behind and facing challenges in my day to day work, I have managed it very well.  I really enjoyed my duty in UNIFIL for one-year.  I had the opportunity to work with 42 nations and mix around with people from different backgrounds.  It is interesting to learn more about other countries and understand the culture of their people.

The most interesting part, I also had the opportunity to visit many places in Lebanon during my tour.  From my observation, although Lebanon is a post-conflict nation, I can see few areas still not develop but many are developed especially big city.  Its development is tremendous. The economic sector is growth rapidly with the presence of UN peacekeepers in the country. And I think it is a positive impact of UN present in Lebanon.”

A collage of activities in Lebanon

When the time came to leave Lebanon after a year of deployment, we asked Norhasram on the bonds she created with other UN Peacekeepers, especially the women peacekeepers and her joy of returning home to see her kids.

Yes, it was a sad moment to leave Lebanon and the other female peacekeeper in my battalion.  I have close relationship with them even till today and we keep in touch – from the other Malaysian personnel and those from other nations. We keep in touch through social media. They are all good friends, nice and friendly.  It’s all I could ask for after one year of deployment, to have them as part of my life.

Friends for life

I am happy and grateful that my kids were back in my arms again. We went for a holiday and spent time doing fun activities together. One year had passed and a lot of things need to be updated!

Finally, we asked the most important question, what did she learn over the one-year period:

I told my children that in life, not everyone is lucky.  Some part of the world lives in peace and have a better life, but some parts of the world lives in chaos and suffering because of the unwanted things happen in their country. We should treasure our life and be grateful for what we have.    

We all have sacrifices to make, they are not the same for each of us, some of us sacrifice because of love, money, time, the list can go on.

Norhasram sacrificed family for a year to serve for her nation, the world and for peace.

What are you willing to sacrifice?

 

Many thanks to Lt Cdr Norhasram binti Mohd Muharami and my colleague Laura Lee for their support in this story.

In October 1960, Malaysia deployed its first contingent of 3,500 Malay Special Forces of the then Malayan Armed Forces to the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC). Since then, Malaysia has participated in over 30 peacekeeping operations with the deployment of 29,000 peacekeepers from the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police. The deployment of Malaysia’s military and police personnel in various UN Peacekeeping Operations is a manifestation of Malaysia’s strong commitment to shared responsibilities towards the early and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

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