Peace begins with smile
When one walks through the entrance to the Bangladesh Rapidly Deployable Battalion headquarters in Bunia of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first thing that catches the eye is a huge plaque that says "Peace begins with a smile".
The Bangladeshi soldiers, engaged in the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, call the place "House of Peace".
The Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been successful in bringing peace to a restive nation that had plunged into three civil wars in less than two decades.
From an understanding that the DRC needs more than just conflict reduction for sustainable peace, they have been doing what needs to be done on the social and cultural fronts as well.
"It's not part of our primary responsibilities, but with our own funds and resources, we have been providing them with free medical services, and computer training for the youth, and also helping them promote their culture," Brig Gen Ihteshamus Samad Chowdhury, brigade commander of the Northern Sector, MONUSCO, told this newspaper.
Last month, there was a sudden cholera outbreak in the DRC's Bunia region where 10 people died and scores others were admitted to hospital.
Things were bad particularly in the Bunia Central Jail where at least five inmates died from the disease.
Responding to the local authorities' request, the Bangladeshi peacekeepers set up several medical camps in the jail in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
They provided emergency medical care, medicine and follow-up care to around 2,000 inmates.
"The United Nations and the Jail authorities requested us, and we started providing medical services to them [the inmates]," said Maj Md Ferdous Islam, a medical officer in Bangladesh army.
Talking to this correspondent, Zonizi Camille, director of the Bunia Central Jail, said "We are really grateful to the Bangladeshi contingent. They responded on time to our request and saved us from a big disaster.”
He also mentioned that it was not the first time that the peacekeepers went beyond their formal responsibilities to help the Congolese people get out of trouble.
The Bangladesh army personnel have also been providing free computer training to young men and women at the Youth Centre in Bunia where computers are considered a luxury.
"I did not know how to operate a computer, but now I do. I have been taking computer training [at the centre] for a month. This will surely help me get a job," said Blaise Okulieke who recently finished higher secondary studies from a local school.
Twenty-one-year-old Mapenzi Meka, another trainee at the centre, said, “The free training comes as a blessing for me. I could never afford this otherwise.”
Maj Md Abul Khayer, officer-in-charge of the Computer Training Centre, said the contingent has plans to continue the programme for a longer period.
He also said they are thinking of providing training to the instructors as well.
"If we can arrange training for them [the instructors], it will help expand our programme further."
Dieudonne Ngadjole Lonema Amoti, the education minister of the DRC, said, "We are really grateful to the Bangladesh contingent for giving training to our young people and turning them into assets for our society. This additional service they are giving us will help us build a better society."
The African country has reserves of valuable minerals such as uranium, diamond, gold and cobalt, but around 63 percent of its 81 million people live in poverty.