Chinese peacekeeper Zhang Qun quietly walked past a classroom of South Sudanese students as they were taking an exam. Everything seemed peaceful -- only the broken windows and bullet holes on the nearby buildings testified to lurking danger.
The children came from camps for those displaced by war, and Zhang's mission was to protect them as they sat for college entrance exams in Juba city.
As temperatures shot up to 41 degrees Celsius past noon, Zhang, wearing a bulky bullet-proof vest, was grateful to receive a bottle of ice water from his colleague.
"I initially ate some chocolates for lunch, but now they are all chocolate mousse," the 40-year-old Chinese officer told Xinhua reporters.
As a member of the sixth team of peacekeeping police China sent to South Sudan, Zhang represents a new profession that is promoting the Chinese image abroad, following traders, engineers and agricultural specialists.
The approaching Chinese New Year is a proud moment for the team, and Wei Yiyi, a Chinese peacekeeping police contingent commander, decided to stick to tradition and introduce some Chinese elements to their residence in the United Nations (UN) base.
There were no couplets with good wishes, festive lanterns or red envelopes, yet Wei got a Nile River fish to symbolize good luck and dozens of home-made dumplings to make the dinner resemble the ones eaten on New Year's Eve.
The Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is the most important time for family gatherings in China, but Wei explained that they needed to leave behind their families so as to protect thousands of more families here.
"My daughter misses me a lot, but she understands it is a glorious job, and she often tells others how she is proud of having a peacekeeping police father," Wei said.
WHY ARE CHINESE POLICE BEING DEPLOYED?
China's participation in peacekeeping police missions has a relatively recent history: China started to send out its peacekeeping police in 2000 and now deploys about 150 police officers worldwide.
In South Sudan, those Chinese peacekeeping police, like their colleagues from other countries, patrol internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and engage in the protection of civilians. Thanks to their good performance, the police earned a medal from the United Nations (UN) in November 2017.
The glory did not come easily, as the complex security situation in the world's youngest nation poses great risks. Since 2013, South Sudan has been embroiled in continual civil strife. In 2016, two Chinese peacekeepers, Li Lei and Yang Shupeng, died while five others were injured after their vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade while guarding a refugee camp near a UN compound for displaced people in South Sudan.
Last year, Japan withdrew its troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan amid mounting domestic concerns over the soldiers' safety.
Meanwhile, China has cast itself as a staunch supporter of the UN peacekeeping mission.
Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged at the United Nations Peacekeeping Summit in 2015 that China would take the lead in setting up a permanent peacekeeping police squad, build a peacekeeping standby force of 8,000 troops, and provide free military aid of 100 million U.S. dollars to the African Union, as Africa has the biggest peacekeeping needs.
When asked why he is working abroad as a peacekeeping police officer, He Bin, deputy head of the team who works in the South Sudanese state of Wau, said the drive to join world's peacekeeping effort agrees with China's responsibilities as a major country, but there is more.
"Once a British police instructor told me that China has a small police force compared to its huge population, yet China is among the safest countries in the world, so Chinese police must have something the world can learn from," He said.
"Chinese police, as a representative of the Oriental culture, should go out and present its experience to the world. In this process, we also learn from our foreign counterparts," He said.
Wu Xiaobing, from China's wealthy coastal city of Wenzhou, said he believes that the close encounter with wars and conflicts can draw the attention of the many Chinese who are now living in comfort and peace to the sufferings of the local people.
He told his family and friends about the children's hardship in the IDP camps, and received generous donations of children's clothes. Among the most impressed was his 8-year-old daughter.
"I told her there are still places where children of her age are struggling in wars and poverty, and so do not take your comfortable life for granted," Wu said. "I said to her: When you are capable, you should do more to help those in need."