Dr Sangya Malla's life is one that is an inspiration for not only doctors and police personnel, but for all women and men


Dr Sangya Malla, Superintendent of Nepal Police, has been awarded the 2021 United Nations Woman Police Officer of the Year Award by the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, becoming the first Nepali woman to receive the award. She was presented the award amidst a virtual ceremony on November 9 by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Dr Malla was chosen for the international award for her contribution as a UN peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she is currently working. On receiving the honour, she said she felt appreciated for her hard work during the mission.

Medical-cum-police personnel

As an orthodontist and Superintendent of Nepal Police, Dr Malla has been fulfilling her roles that of a doctor as well as police during her UN mission.

As a child, however, Dr Malla didn't dream of a career in either of the two professions - she had fancied dreams of working in corporate houses.

"I always wished to work in a big company as I was inspired by the staff's stylish mannerisms and beautiful working environment there.

However, growing up, I understood the importance of getting involved in the health sector where I could help lots of people through my knowledge and service. This led me to choose a career in the medical field," Dr Malla shared of becoming an orthodontist.

Born in the Valley in 1978, she completed her school education from Little Angels' School in 1994 and went to India to pursue higher studies. She completed her intermediate in Science from Mussoorie, India in 1996 and Bachelors of Dental Surgery from Patna in 2003.

Dr Malla returned to Nepal and started working as a dentist at the BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences in Dharan. It was then that she applied for an officer's position at the Nepal Police and joined the institution as a dental surgeon in 2008.

Sharing her decision to join the Nepal Police, Dr Malla said, "Since I was already helping people through my medical profession, I believed that joining the police force would empower me more and that I could also help the police force with my knowledge."

During that time her role was mostly limited to that of a medical professional. Later, she completed her Master's degree in Orthodontist from Tribhuvan University in 2014 "to boost my professional career".

Dr Malla also claims to be the first police personnel to start the Orthodontist service in Nepal Police. She was promoted to the position of the Superintendent of Police in 2019.

Foreign missions

While working as a medical officer of Nepal Police, Dr Malla set out on her first ever UN mission abroad to Haiti with a medical UN peacekeeping team.

"I worked there from 2016 to 2017 for 14 months at a level 1 hospital (a hospital which caters to patients with minor care and supervision)."

Sharing about her work experience there, she said, "Haiti is a country with lots of political turmoil, and diseases like cholera are quite common there. So, during my tenure, I worked to spread awareness about maintaining hygiene to minimise the spread of the deadly diseases."

Upon returning to Nepal after completing her Haiti mission, Dr Malla sat for the United Nations' Selection Assistance and Assessment Team (SAAT) exams, cleared the exams and got selected as a peacekeeper from Nepal for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2018.

"Since the mission was headed by France, I learned French for one year in the Valley in order to be able to communicate properly with locals and my foreign colleagues during the mission," she revealed.

A total of 14 women officers were interviewed for the position out of which "three got selected including me - I have been working as a Contingent Commander in the UN mission since going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on November 20, 2020".

Taking up challenges

How was working in foreign land as a UN peacekeeper amidst the pandemic?

According to Dr Malla, as the world was grappling with the major impacts of COVID-19 pandemic last year, Congo was also affected by it.

And she worked to minimise the spread of the virus during her mission while also making sure to keep her team safe as well.

"I created the Health and Environment Unit under my leadership to help the locals as well as our team get authentic information about the virus and the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. I held several health checkup and awareness camps across the country - it helped many locals get the vaccine against COVID-19 without hesitancy," she shared.

She also worked to help her own team cope with the pandemic. "We have a total of 400 UN police personnel on the mission, and I tried my best to get as many of them as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 for the safety of all members. We have set up a walk-in-clinic system in our mission which allows hassle-free vaccination service to our team without having to wait in queues."

Dr Malla also shared that 70 per cent of the mission members have already been vaccinated "which include 109 female police personnel".

"The remaining 30 per cent are either hesitant or confused about taking the vaccine due to lack of information about the vaccine.

Hence, I have been working to impart authentic information about the safety of vaccines while removing fake news about their side effects," she informed.

A humanitarian cause

Dr Malla has also been spreading awareness about the importance of protecting our environment and maintaining hygiene in one's surroundings to be safe from diseases as she believes that both health and environment are closely linked with each other.

Sharing more on her experience, she revealed that she also visited places like Goma, Beni, Bukavu, including the Congo's capital Kinshasa, among others as part of the UN Mission. "I worked to control the spread of diseases like Ebola and cholera in these places, the episodes of which have been very frequent in Congo."

Apart from that, Dr Malla also led counselling camps for the residents of the city of Goma which was struck by massive volcano eruptions in May "which led to thousands of locals being displaced to other cities".

"People were undergoing traumatic conditions with high stress levels due to the disaster and the way they had to forsake their homes and belongings leaving behind dead relatives made things worse. I was successful in counselling such people and it gave me a different sense of inner happiness," she shared.

But how safe is to work in such conflict-affected countries as a UN peacekeeper?

According to her, Congo was for decades gripped by wars and it still faces political instability. "The eastern regions of the country still face conflicts. However, I am assured of safety before visiting the eastern parts. As a UN peacekeeper I have to visit those places for the sake of locals' wellbeing," she stated.

Glorious moment

Rising above all challenges, she has been feted with the prestigious UN award.

Sharing about how she got to know about her win, she recalled, "I received the mail about being selected among top three finalists for the prestigious award from the UN Office in New York on October 13.

The mail also asked me to get ready for the interview the next day. I came to know that I had won the award on October 21 through an email from a UN officer."

Dr Malla was very happy upon being selected for the award "and felt appreciated for my hard work during the mission".

The award was set up for UN women police officers in 2011 and used to be given in New York amidst a ceremony every year. However, the award ceremony was held virtually on November 9 this time due to the ongoing pandemic, as per Dr Malla.

Dr Malla, who had arrived in the country on October 19 from Congo, returned after celebrating Tihar with her family in the Valley on November 6.

She will be continuing the mission for six more months as part of the extension of the UN mission "which has a time limit of two years".

On a different note, Dr Malla shared that she misses home and local food items a lot during her long stay abroad "but it is less important as compared to the humanitarian work I have been doing to make my country proud in the international arena".

Dr Malla's family includes her father and mother, a son, and an elder brother, all of whom are living in the Valley.

For women empowerment

Asked if she faced any challenge working as a female police personnel in a society like ours where patriarchal mindset still prevails, Dr Malla said, "I am a straightforward kind of person and this didn't seem to go down so well with my male colleagues or seniors, which I have noticed through their indifference whenever I suggested something at the professional level. It feels sad to say that the males are still not taking the opinions of professional women seriously in the country."

However, Dr Malla said that her male colleagues and seniors during her missions abroad were very cooperative which helped her to give her best performance as a UN peacekeeper.

Asked if she wishes to give any advice for women police personnel to achieve success, Dr Malla said, "Don't be afraid to do or say the right things even in the face of adversity.

This will gradually make you stronger.

Hard work is a must for achieving success in life."

She has also been involved in the Zonta Club of Kathmandu, an international organisation which works for women empowerment.

"I have been involved with the organisation for a couple of years now and it feels nice to work for women's rights in the country. However, much needs to be done to fight for equal rights for women in the country," she said.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 13, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.