Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image

February, 2010:

Subject English: Learn the sound of the letter H

Yesterday we went to observe, or actually participate, in an adult literacy class with another division of Women for Women International. It is quite a big centre with a number of classrooms for different target groups, but ‘ours’ was in the garden under a lovely palm tree with graduates of the WfWi programme. Surprisingly enough, a number of chiefs of the Rumbek area came to join us as well and it was really great to see them doing a joined class with the women.

After I recorded a few stories of the women, Peter, the teacher, wanted to postpone the class. However, I was able to persuade him to teach a little bit so we could observe how it works. Since we were in the garden and no one seemed to have pen and paper I expected the students to practice their writing in the sand. But when it became clear that they were going to learn all about the sound of the letter H, little notepads, pens and even small blackboards and chalk appeared.

I owe you some audio, because it was great to be part of the class! As soon as they found out my first language is not English, but Dutch they asked me to teach them ‘How are you’! Ha! I must say it gave me great pleasure to see the chiefs struggling with the G sound!

When we came back, I heard from the Director that she wants me to give a workshop about peace tomorrow (which is now today).  Updates will follow later, but a lot of improvisation will be involved!

Rebekka Alima Atiir

One of the most amazing ladies we have met so far is Rebekka. I promised her that I would tell her story, but why not let her do it herself? Storm and I visited her home last week and I recorded my conversation with her and the other lovely ladies present!

Just as a short introduction, seven months ago Rebekka flew from Wulu County with her children to the area of Rumbek East. She ran for three hours to escape the fighting and bring her children in her safety. She couldn’t take anything with her, except her clay water pot.

I was amazed by her smiles and optimism when I spoke with her. Since her involvement in the empowerment programmes from Women for Women International her life has changed. She can feed her children vegetables to keep them healthy. She can sell produce to buy what she needs for her children. However, a lot remains to be desired for. She still doesn’t have a proper home. The home she currently lives in did not have a roof until Unicef donated a plastic sheet.

Rebekka in front of her home

Rebekka in front of her home

Listen to her story and let her touch your life, as she touched mine.

Rumbek_IDP Camp

New Dinka name, new friends, shocking visits… what a week it has been!

It is Sunday evening and I’ve finally taken a few moments to reflect upon my week.  Much of this week with Women for Women International has taken place on the Farm. Every day we set out with a number of staff members to visit the farm that was set up to teach women about agriculture in 2008. After a dusty ride sitting almost on top of our Sudanese and Kenyan colleagues, during which we heartily laugh about Sudanese jokes we don’t understand (at least I don’t), we arrive on the WfWi Farm. This is the place where 2900 women receive training on both a practical and theoretical level. They learn how to grow vegetables throughout the whole year, and they also learn about Conflict Management, Food Security, Children’s Rights, Gender Based Violence, Human Rights, Food and Nutrition, Women and Economics, Women and Voting, etc. For the first two years on the farm, the women are sponsored via the sponsorship programme of Women for Women International. This gives them an opportunity to learn everything about farming and agriculture, and also receive other training as mentioned above.

With the wonderful help of Lilian and Abraham (my translators) I was able to speak with a number of women who are involved on the farm, and it has been quite an experience! I have a new name, a Dinka name, namely Adol! This means brown cow, which is actually a massive compliment here! Talking about cows, I have received a number of marriage proposals here. Even women who want to marry me off to their brothers! It’s nice to know I am quite the catch… the going rate is now 400 cows, but it’s still going up. I don’t think my price will ever be met though…

On Friday Storm and I visited the homes of a few ladies. The first was the home of Internally Dispaced Rebekka Alima Atiir, what an impressive woman she is. She had to flee from her county seven months ago with her seven (!) children. She had nowhere to go and ended up somewhere in the bush with a number of her neighbors from her hometown. They had no food, no water, and not even something like a roof for months until Unicef provided them with a plastic sheet for cover. It was absolutely and completely shocking.

Rebekka in her home

Rebekka in her home

The other two homes were less shocking to visit, but still completely different from anything we are used to: mud huts, some of them on poles to keep the lions from eating their food and children! Viewing their homes involved quite the climb, but when we were down again, we greeted with applause and cheering from the neighbors.

Clay hut on 'legs' to avoid lions

Clay hut on 'legs' to avoid lions

Regarding my conversations and the new friends I’ve made, I have recorded most of it, and I will try to put bits and pieces online, but the internet connection can be a bit of a nightmare. I am now working on a few case studies for WfWi and as soon as I’ve finished them, they shall be posted online somewhere also.

Storm, my photographer, made a number of really good photographs, you can find them here.

Warm greetings from Rumbek!


Lost in translation (and lost in the savanna…)

I know some of you are also reading Storm’s blog and I am sure you must have smiled whilst reading it, as his account of our experiences is very comical and funny!  But for those of you who are loyal to me J I must tell you about what was supposed to be a bus ride, but became a car ride from Juba to Rumbek.

After a lovely evening in Juba with our friends on the ‘terrace’ of the street corner restaurant outside our compound (see photos via Picasa or Facebook), Storm and I got up very early to have enough time to make it to the bus stop next to the ‘souk’ (market) in Juba. However, after making some last minute phone calls to find out from which bus station we were actually supposed to leave, we found out that instead of riding to Rumbek on the big blue bus with ‘real’ South Sudanese, livestock, and an excessive amount of luggage on the roof, we were now going with the mini bus. However, when at 10:30 am (2 hours after we were supposed to leave) the driver realised he wasn’t going to be able to fill up his vehicle with enough people, he decided not to go to Rumbek! Three of the seven passengers, including Storm and I, were very lucky because they organised a car (!) for us to drive to Rumbek. But what a car from h*ll it was… With every bump, and as you can imagine there are MANY bumps in/on the ‘roads’ of South Sudan I thought something was going to poke through the floor, or the engine was going to fall out or we would lose another important part of the car.

The first part of the car ride was incredibly boring! We drove for hours, or so it seemed to me on this half-finished gravel –like dirt road with nothing but rows and rows of half dead trees (yet it is the dry season). However, the drive became an adventure when after a nap in the dusty heat of the car I opened my eyes and found myself in the middle of the savanna. This means no roads. And since we were driving around in circles according to the third passenger, a very young and very proud Dinka boy, apparently no sense of direction either! Apart from the very dodgy car, we had not had a hint of problems at all so far: we managed to get an extra travel permit, we were allowed access through all the roadblocks and checkpoints (probably after our driver paid a huge amount of bribes) and no sign of (inter-) tribal fighting or exploding mines whatsoever.

But here we were, driving in circles in the middle of nowhere with no other cars or vehicles to be seen, and with a driver who became more and more nervous. One of the other passengers then jumped out of the car to run ahead and see if he could find a path that would lead us out of the Savanna. And yes, it finally happened, after 8 hours, apparently we did have enough fuel, we made it to Rumbek!!

Warm Welcome in Rumbek!

Of course I have lots to share about our first days in Rumbek, but I am a bit busy with transcribing my interviews. However, here is a recording I don’t want to keep from you. It’s still raw, unedited, so forgive me for that, but it is absolutely lovely!

Warm Welcome to the whites!

Women for Women: Join Women on the Bridge

Many of you have asked what my actual plans are for my trip to Sudan. Well, one aim of this trip is related to the work of Women for Women International (WfWi). WfWi (see link in the right column) has asked me to document the lives of women victims of war who are now involved in projects from WfWi-Sudan to rebuild their lives. I will also report on their local peace initiatives within the context of upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8 2010.

Southern Sudan is the site of over 8 million deaths and hundreds of thousands Internally Displaced People, raped and starving women in a conflict spanning more than 21 years (or fifty if you include the civil war before). Women are imagining peace, yet war, drought, hunger, tribal clashes and abject poverty wage on.

On behalf of women in the Lakes State in South Sudan and of women across the globe who at this very moment are living amidst violence, WfWi is hosting a global campaign to call for immediate action to end war and build stronger, more peaceful societies.

Rumbeki women singing and dancing

Rumbeki women singing and dancing

Honor Women Survivors of War
To celebrate International Women’s Day WfWi is hosting a global campaign called Join Me on the Bridge. In South Sudan, Rumbek area, thousands of women from Makernhoum and Barpakanyi will join together on Barnam Bridge in their own counties, calling for an end to war and gender based violence. They will demonstrate that women can build bridges of peace and also development for the future. In solidarity WfWi are gathering supporters on bridges all over the world- all of us saying no to war, no to poverty, no to violence, no to illiteracy and yes to peace and hope.

This is a very special time for the global women’s movement. March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to recognize the profound achievements of women throughout history. We are also 10 years into a commitment that world leaders made at the dawn of the new millennium to end global poverty. That commitment, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was crafted as a series of benchmarks that would provide the blueprint for peace, prosperity, and equality for every citizen of the world. But there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, and I believe you can help!

Join the Movement!
There are several ways in which you can participate: from attending WfWi events on bridges in London and New York or Congo/Rwanda, Nigeria, Bosnia, Sudan, to gathering friends and family on a bridge in your own town. Your participation, whether you are female or not, will truly help to make our shared voice heard as we stand together to realize women’s visions of peace and prosperity.

Find out more on

Spectacular arrival and an even more spectacular stay in Juba

Finally a message from dry and extremely hot Juba! Tomorrow we will already be moving on to Rumbek (by bus if you can believe it!), and even though we’ve only been in Juba for a short while, so much has happened!

On the plane from Kampala and Juba I recognized a few important South Sudanese Members of Parliament and, more importantly ;), they recognized me as well!! It didn’t get us through the VIP entrance of Juba airport, but at least their luggage came through the same whole in the wall…

Even though my travel companion and I did not have the same welcoming committee as the MPS waiting for us when we got off the airport, we were met by the driver of my friends, who took us to the Central Pub in Juba where we had lunch with my friends. It’s been great to see them working in Juba and discovering the traditional food at the little street corner restaurants, as well as the expat bars in town!

We are currently staying in remodeled shipping containers on a compound relatively close to everything! Juba is such a ‘white’ city, with many internationals, that everything is very expensive. Hotels easily cost $100/$150 per night, and therefore we are extremely happy in our containers, even if the toilet has difficulty flushing, the shower water can be brown, and we sweat out of our beds at night.

Mentioning my ‘old’ friends earlier, my new friend Davey has also been extremely lovely and helpful! He took us to the market to get tickets for our bus ride to Rumbek (we are leaving tomorrow) and treated us to the most delicious Sudanese food in a proper Sudanese restaurant. When we had coffee with him and his friend John Garang who works for South Sudanese TV, they alerted us to the variety of government officials in the room and shared some insight information that made my skin crawl! I will save that for later…

I had an interesting meeting at Miraya FM, the greatest radio station for South Sudan (from the UN), run by a woman who also worked as a photographer in Afghanistan. The meeting went really well and if I can find the right kind of cooperation in Rumbek, some of my documentaries may be aired on Miraya FM!

Tomorrow we will leave by bus for Rumbek! We’ll be travelling through two states of South Sudan, Central Equatoria and the state of Lakes. It will be a hell of a ride, maybe not entirely safe and most likely hot and sweaty, but definitely a beautiful way of exploring and discovering the country!

African Jams and Tom’s Two Wives

After our ‘hijacked’ Monday in which we felt our ‘whiteness’ was leveraged at the police station and boarding school, Storm and I were exhausted, as you can imagine. However, once back in the car Tom and his first wife’s cousin thought it would be really good if we met Tom’s first wife Joyce. As we had already visited the home of his second wife, Tom made the mistake of referring to the home of his wife Joyce as his second home, which made Joyce’s cousin really upset. Storm and I were already wondering how the relationship between the two wives would be, if there was any jealousy, but it wasn’t until Joyce’s cousin (I forgot her name) became annoyed with Tom we had a glimpse of possible tension between the two wives.

Even though I realise it must be very common for a man to have multiple wives, I can’t really get my head around it. How does it work practically? When does Tom sleep where? Do they both live in the same house with all their children or do they have separate houses? And if the latter is the case, do they meet each other and let their children hang out with each other, because they are half-brothers/sisters? Are they jealous of each other at all?

Whilst the 5-minute drive to Tom’s first wife took us at least an hour, since we were stuck in a typical African traffic jam (Jam), I had plenty of time to think about this issue of polygamy.  Tom married his first wife when he was very young. She is from the same tribe (Madi) as he is and he has three children with her. He married his second wife later in life, she is from the President’s village (which I think means he married someone with status) and he has one daughter with her. Arriving at Joyce’s home it felt to me as if it was a mansion compared to Lilian’s home (the second wife). The house is a compound with a gate and its own garden. We met Kristen and Robert, Tom’s twins who were both extremely happy to see him. After drinks with the first wife, we went for supper at the house of Tom’s second wife. A typical Kampalan home cooked dinner with chicken soup, Irish (!) potatoes, Ugandan vegetables, rice and noodles.  It was absolutely lovely! It felt a bit weird however, that the women of the family were eating their dinner outside and Tom, Storm and I were sitting inside watching Nollywood (from Nigeria) films while eating our dinner.

It seems to me, but I may be wrong, that most of the money goes to the first wife and Tom spends most of his time with his second wife.  It was anthropologically very interesting to observe the workings of a legitimate polygamous relationship. Of course a woman can never be married to more than one man at the same time. I’m sure you know what I think of that!

Thursday we will be leaving for Juba where new exciting adventures will be waiting for us!

From Government of South Sudan to private boarding school to police station to women’s prison…

Monday must have been the weirdest day ever! In the morning we went to apply for our visas for South Sudan. As I wrote earlier, Tom is quite an important man in the Sudanese community and that benefited us immensely at the Consulate of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). The Ambassador came out of his office to shake his hand and so did his Deputy. We only had to fill in a form, hand over our passports and a photo and within 10 minutes (of which only 2 had to do with our visa application) we were in the car on our way to the bank. No letters of invitation or recommendation or copies of all kinds of complicated documents necessary. I have never experienced such an easy visa application.

Before we made it to the bank, Tom stopped at a Pakistani car dealership to inspect the Minister’s car he’s supposed to drive to Juba, Sudan for the minister. How exciting! We were treated as guests of honor, which was extremely nice and we now know how to get access to a used Japanese vehicle anywhere in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Always handy to know! Tom offered us a lift to Juba in the Minister’s car, but unfortunately our visas were not going to be ready in time.

After the interesting visit with Khurram Abbas (the Pakistani car dealer) we made it to several banks, one of which is in the Sudanese heart of Kampala what also must be the busiest part! Here all cargo for Sudan gets stacked into big trucks, people get on busses to Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan, and a lot of other business happens on the street. It was a bit difficult to take pictures, but what a sight to see!

Off we went again, outside Kampala to pick up someone’s son to take him to a private boarding school. What a beautiful drive! When we arrived at the compound and we were inside the principal’s office, Tom said he needed to speak to his white sister (me) and it appeared he did not have enough money to pay the school fees. He asked us to pay the remainder, which we did, but my goodness, we were so worried we wouldn’t get our money back! Thankfully we did get the money back the next day.

Both Storm and I felt we had quite the day, but it wasn’t over yet. Tom picked up his first wife’s cousin and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the Kampala police station pleading the case of the son of Tom’s first wife’s cousin who was hit by a car after the driver of a motor bike (bodda bodda) he was getting a lift from drove through a red light. He was in coma for seven days and may never be able to walk again. We were sent from office to office and no one in the police station was willing to take the case. To prevent an altercation between the mother and one of the detectives from happening, we had to leave the police station quickly, listening to rants about corruption and how it is impossible to get justice in Africa.

On our way out, we passed a women’s prison and I found that quite shocking as the prison was nothing more than a hut from some kind of metal with a small opening with bars. A crying woman was holding the bars and trying to get our attention. When I asked Tom who is put in that prison he said: ‘Bad women who killed their husband with acid or an axe or through poisoning. Bad women, Jolien, bad women.’ And he gave me a rather ominous look that stopped me from asking more questions…

Moving around with a guy named Tom…

And that was all I knew before we left for Uganda: that we were going to be picked up by a guy named Tom from Entebbe Airport and that he would take care of everything. After a nine-hour flight to Entebbe, I had to look out for something with a giraffe in order to find him at the airport, but the quality of our phone call was so bad that I didn’t know what to look out for!! But after a bit of harassment at the airport, Tom appeared to be the guy with the big friendly smile and a giraffe t-shirt 😉

And Tom took good care of us indeed. He found us a lovely and affordable place to stay, close to the house of his second (!) wife and close to various interesting parts of the city of Kampala. And what an adventure it has been so far! Tom took us with him for a few days when he was ‘moving around’. That basically means we drove with him when he went about his business.  And what an adventure it has been so far! Tom is quite an important man in the Sudanese community of Kampala. He is the chairman of the Sudanese Madi Community and therefore carries a lot of responsibilities and knows a lot of interesting people!

On Sunday, he took his second wife Lillian and us to the Kampala Motorbike and Car Rally in the garden of the King’s Palace, 15 minutes away from where we are staying. We were right in the middle of the crowd who had brought their homemade beer and liquor, nuts, fruits and candy with them. The atmosphere was great! And quite dangerous, as it was quite easy for people standing next to the track to get hit by the racing vehicles, but this only seemed to exhilarate the crowd even more! The only people slightly scared were the only ‘whites’ in the audience, us!

There is a lot more to tell about our time here in Kampala, but I will do so over the next few days!