UN Stories, U.S. Voices: Ronald Quejas-Risdon
The work of UN Peacekeepers can often seem distant for Americans but for UNA-USA member Ronald Quejas-Risdon, it’s been his job. UNA Greater Lansing Chapter member Ron is an author, UN Peacekeeper, and is sharing more about his expansive 20-year career with the UN.
Ronald graduated from college and became a Peace Corps volunteer in South America, and determined that working for the UN was his goal. After attending graduate school and beginning his career in labor negotiating, he was recruited in 1993 to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, DPKO. Ron then spent the next 20 years on various field assignments around the world, living in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and New York City. He remembers his first assignment and being thrown into his new role with an inadequate background briefing.
“I was basically given some policy manuals to read for two weeks in New York and then sent straight into Somalia where I served for over six months. Almost immediately I was thrown into a major crisis at the Mogadishu Airport which had been closed down while two major clans fought over it,” Ron said. “I was part of a team of four that was airlifted by helicopter into the middle of this firefight along with military support and translators. Our assignment was to get a cease-fire, find out what the issues were, and negotiate a settlement. Getting the airport open was critical. I had been involved in many negotiations but this is probably the most memorable.”
As a member of DPKO Ron focused on fieldwork and after assignments in some of the most complex and intense global conflicts he finished his career as regional Head of Office in Sudan. Following his retirement from the UN Ron has written two books based on his peacekeeping experience and is active in UNA both here in the US and in the UK, attending both the Global Engagement Summit and Global Leadership Summit. Following a career that made him very familiar with refugee issues, he became engaged with the Adopt-A-Future initiative and is currently involved with refugee education and humanitarian relief projects worldwide, especially in East Africa.
Merging his time as a peacekeeper and a UNA-USA member felt natural to Ron who remembers his first time attending the Global Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. and speaking with Members of Congress. “I am used to meeting people who don’t agree with the UN, and with some of the congressional staff, in particular, I was expecting a really hard sell.” He used examples from his experiences in a straight-forward conversation about the need for peacekeeping, about the imperative for American involvement and the multiplier value it has to U.S. involvement. “Along with other members of our team, we were able to get receptive sincere responses from them regarding fully funding the U.N. Of course, it still had to go through the rest of the congressional process but it showed me how important those visits to Congress are and that you need to be putting yourself out there because good things can come your way.”
Advocacy is needed now more than ever, and it is so important that we realize how important a role each of us plays in supporting the United Nations. Your voice matters, and we are stronger together. Text USAforUN to 738-674 to send a message to your members of Congress to fully fund the United Nations.
In a series called “UN Stories, U.S. Voices,” we will be finding opportunities throughout the year to highlight some of the amazing histories and connections UNA-USA members have to the UN to celebrate its 75th anniversary.