Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image

March, 2010:

Hope for Peace

Listen to the women arriving singing for the peace workshop at the farm in Rumbek. I can’t get enough of it!

Women Arriving Peace Workshop Farm

Peace Workshops in Makernhoum and Barpakanyi

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 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.

Two Peace workshops were hosted in preparation of the Bridge event, one in Makernhoum and one in Barpakanyi. 200 participants shared their vision and their image of piece and explained how they would like to see peace be achieved in their communities. The women arrived at the workshops singing songs of Door, peace. Their practical vision of peace is for their husbands to stop fighting. Two main causes for the fighting have been identified, namely hunger and illiteracy.  When you are hungry you can fight your sister or your brother, because you take their food by force. When your stomach is full, you will just greet your sister.  The women also believe that uneducated people fight people without a reason. When there is an argument, they don’t talk about it, but they start fighting immediately.

In Barpakenyi there are two clans, the Durchek and the Durfar, who love fighting. They fight about the cattle in cattle camps and when they come home they continue to fight with their wives and children. But through the WfWi-programme the wives of the two clans are in peace together. They don’t fight each other for water at the water pump and they help each other out when one of them is in need. A few participants compare peace with a seed. The peace starts in the programme of WfWi where the women learn how to communicate with each other and work peacefully together with women from conflicting clans. From the programme the participants take the seed of peace to their homes where they teach their children how to talk instead of fighting with each other, and to their communities where they befriend their neighbors and share the water pump in a peaceful manner.

The participants of the Peace workshops were asked to draw their images of peace. As you can imagine, for women who are illiterate and have never been to school, this is quite a challenge! Some of them didn’t even know how to take the cap of the marker. However, after some encouragement the drawing began and the women created beautiful artwork. They drew hearts, because they believe that peace is love and peace will have to start from within. They sketched crosses, because God brings peace. The women who take part in the literacy classes wrote part of the English alphabet, because when people are educated they won’t fight anymore. Other women were extremely proud of being able to write their names. The number 200 was written down, because that is the amount of participants to be expected at the Bridge Event. The workshops were closed with songs the women have composed and written themselves about peace, about door, because they want to do a lot of singing, dancing and shouting together to claim peace for themselves, for their families and for their communities.

Martha Lek Makur

One of the inspiring women we met at the second Peace workshop in Barpakanyi is Martha. She was one of the leaders during the singing and the other women seemed to listen to her. She wears 8 particular marks on her head. A lot of Dinka men in the Rumbek area have circular marks around their head, but hers are triangular and located on her forehead. She explains how it is common in Yirol, the area where she was born; to have girls ‘marked’ when they turn eleven years old as a sign they have become an adult.

Martha’s husband paid 100 cows to her family in Yirol and then brought her to Barpakanyi. When she realised she was going to become a victim as one of eight wives, she decided to build her own house.  With pride she explains how she made her own bricks from mud and together with her children created her own brick building, not very common in her community. She decided she did not want a roof from grass and asked her husband for a cow. From the proceedings of the sale from the cow she bought an iron sheet, timber and nails to construct the roof she did want. After the house was finished, her husband brought the other seven wives to show them the new house and to tell them he was going to stay with her from now on. The wives started fighting with Martha, because they thought that the husband favoured her and built her this house. But the husband explained the situation and encouraged his other wives to also build their own homes.

Martha describes her living circumstances during the war. She did not have access to necessities such as fruit, salt, soap, mattresses, and clothes. The people lived for 22 years in hiding in the bush. Everyone was fighting, including women and children. When she was pregnant, she had to keep the water near her, because she could not run. With the water she kept and leaves she found near her hiding place, she managed to survive. Because of her experiences in the war, she sees her home and the health of her children as a blessing, and even though life is still not easy, she has big plans for the future. She plans on building and opening her own little shop to sell the vegetables she has cultivated together with her children.

Next to a massive mango tree, cows, goats, and chickens, Martha also has a small garden on her compound. She explains how she taught her children how to cultivate vegetables. During the dry season it is very difficult to grow crops, because the water pump is very far away, but as soon as the rains will come, she hopes to start again with her garden. She cannot participate in the farm project, because the farm is too far away.

Martha plays a big role in the Bridge event on International Women’s Day. She will put on her best clothes and serve water to the women who have come from far. She will also lead the women in her group in singing. She believes the event is very important because, if the men don’t do it, the women will need to bring peace to each other. Because of the big gathering men will have to listen to what they have to say and so will the international community. Together they will sing, dance and shout to claim peace for their country.

Part of the Peace workshop was creating images of peace. Martha’s image of peace is seeing the women from all the fighting clans and opposing communities together in one place, wearing the same clothes and be one, without diversifying themselves from each other because of their ethnic heritage. There will be no jealousy anymore, because there is enough water and food. Her vision for women in her community in the future is that women see themselves separate from their husbands, independent from their husbands. Women need to learn, with help from income generating activities, how they can make their own money to support themselves and their children. She finishes our conversation with the following proverb: ‘If you lay your head on your husband’s shoulder, you will fall down when he moves.’

Street Children in Juba: a new hype.

I am still recovering from the horrific things I have seen today. Of course you often hear stories about children who live on garbage dumps in big cities in developing countries. But to actually see it with your own eyes and hear their stories, it is heart breaking.

Through one of my friends here in Juba I heard about a Ugandan lady who singlehandedly started a centre to feed, dress and teach street children in Juba. After seeing some of the street children I wanted to meet this lady myself. She picked us up this afternoon and took us to a garbage dump, previously a graveyard (although the graves are still there) and showed us where the children live. It is unbelievable. The truth is more painful than you see on TV. Children as young as six our seven years old live in cardboard boxes on garbage. During the day they search the dump for anything they can eat and sell. If they find anything, they will buy glue in the afternoon to get high and forget about all their fears, worries and needs. However, the glue makes them very aggressive and they often get into more trouble because of it.

The day seems somewhat manageable. But then the night falls. Men enter the little children’s village on the compound to look for girls and boys to defile, abuse, rape and molest. Children as young as six are taken brutally.

During our ‘tour’, Cathy (the Ugandan lady) tells us passionately about why the children end up on the street even though they still have parents. There never used to be any street children in Juba. Cathy tells us how they are a new ‘hype’ after the war. Even though some of the parents live in shacks between the garbage dump and the market, they often don’t even know who their children are, as their minds are completely gone because of alcohol and drugs abuse.

Cathy took us to her centre where we met Sabila. She is the youngest in the group to have been molested. She is seven years old, and she was raped until she was completely damaged on the inside. I saw photos of her bleeding in the car. This tiny little girl with her big eyes. How can she ever smile again?

Three other girls have been raped by the father of one of them. Evidence and statements have been given to the police. But the man still works in the garage next door and he continues to have an incestuous relationship with his 11-year old daughter and her 8-year old sister. He still has not been arrested. I provided Cathy with names and contact details of people who work for Mirayah FM (the largest radio station in South Sudan, run by the UN) and South Sudan TV, with little hope that media attention will change the situation.

When the girls become older, around the age of 12, they realize that they can actually ask money for being abused. They move to what is commonly known as The Bridge. It is the area around the biggest bridge in Juba that crosses the Nile and girls can rent rooms there to prostitute themselves. They have no emotions left, they are emotionally and spiritually murdered by everyone who abused them; by the tough life that street children have in Juba, by the men who have sexually molested them, by the glue they sniffed to forget their troubles.

Even though the girls cannot sleep yet at the centre, because the centre is technically Cathy’s house, one of the many churches has donated a piece of land where she can build a centre with dormitories, classrooms, play gardens, a safe haven for the girls, away from a life of rape and abuse.

But a lot is needed. The area that was donated is part of the dump, and you will find a lot of trash, garbage, dirty needles, etc there. First of all the area needs to be cleaned and fenced off. Then the building can begin. Cathy needs a team of builders, construction material, a therapist, teachers, and whatever else we can give her.

I will start doing some fundraising when I am back. But meanwhile, please go to the website and see how you can help: