Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image


With Pain, Hope and Patience

After my last post ages ago I wanted to write an entry called ‘The Horrors of Juba’. At the end of my last trip I tried to track down 11-year old girls who have become sex workers. And I was successful. I found a few of them in a massive compound with iron sheet barracks where women prostitute themselves in rooms not bigger than 3 m2. There are rooms where pornographic movies are being filmed. Sex films with children in the leading roles.

But I couldn’t write about it. I couldn’t find words to describe the living circumstances of the hundreds of women and girls who sell their bodies to men in this awful place. Men of all kinds. There were so many different kinds of women. From Uganda, from Kenya, women who were child soldiers during the war, women who’ve lost everyone and everything, and of course the young girls who try to flee from their lives on the street.

But you will soon be able to read about these women and young girls as I am currently working as a consultant on a new project focused on Southern Sudanese women. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation has commissioned an exciting new book aimed at documenting the lives of different groups of women in South Sudan. It is hoped that this book, under the draft title ‘With Pain, Hope and Patience: The lives of women in South Sudan’, will contribute to a documentation of South Sudan’s past while at the same time voicing women’s hopes for the future. The need for this book is propelled by the recognition that the truth of Sudan’s past must be preserved, documented and made accessible in order to pave the way for its future.

Nine broad categories of women have been identified for this book, each of which will be explored in one detailed chapter. By integrating new data from in-depth interviews with local women, authors are tasked to tell the stories of these categories of South Sudanese women within the current socio-economic and political context of South Sudan.

I am one of these authors. I will be writing two chapters for this book: one on Mothers and one on Sex Workers. I am currently conducting research in Rumbek, Juba and hopefully amongst the Internally Displaced (Southerners who live in the North) in Khartoum early September.

With Pain, Hope and Patience will most likely be published at the end of the year. Until then, I will keep you updated as well, but it looks like it is going to be an amazing book to read, as my co-authors are impressive women!

Back at the Street Children Centre in Juba

Before my departure tomorrow morning for Malakal, I decided to visit Cathy Groenendijk, the lady who runs the only drop-in street children centre for girls, Confident Children out of Conflict. Some of you may remember my entries from a few months ago when I first met some of the girls and heard their horrible life stories of hunger, rape, incest and molestation. One of these girls I will never forget: 7-year old Sabila. However, as I spoke about her earlier, I would now like to bring her sister to your attention. She is the youngest prostitute in Juba: only 9 years old. I have no words for this. My mind went completely blank when Cathy told me. When a street girl decides to become a prostitute it basically means she realises she can also get paid for the abuse she suffered and she may as well try to get some money for it. In a crude and very cynical way it makes even somewhat sense. But according to Cathy, when this happens, it is even harder for the girl to start a ‘normal’ life. To live a life without having sex for money. Or even more ‘normal’: to live a life as a child, safe and protected, well-fed and properly clothed. All of the things we consider to be normal living circumstances for children.

And I’ve seen it in their eyes. the depth of deadness seems to become more intense and stronger, the more they start to understand how their world works.

Isn’t there anything we can do? There must be!!

And there is! Lack of time (seriously, I am leaving in a few hours to go the inner border of Sudan and I haven’t packed yet) stops me from writing a long list of all that you can do. And next to giving loads of money there are tons of things you can do. However, I will tell you about those later. I brought the contents of a collection I did after my lecture at the University of Cambridge to Cathy and she said it will buy school shoes for some of the girls she enrolled for school! How cool is that?!

That brings me to another point: Cathy’s leap of faith. Cathy enrolled all of the street girls into school. All 150 of them!! And she does not even have the money to pay for all of their school fees! Including transportation, food, books and uniforms, it costs $800 per child to go to school. Yes, prepare yourself for a blog about fundraising activities!

I think it is amazing that there is someone out there who makes herself strong for these children, no matter how much she has to give up for them. And she has given up a lot.

I have to go now, but please bear Cathy, Sabila, her sister (the youngest prostitute of Juba) and all the other girls  who live on the streets where they eat of garbage dumps and get abused and defiled daily in mind and in your heart.

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:

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!

Local Peacebuilding Initiatives in South Sudan

In less than 36 hours I will be leaving for South Sudan, although I will spend some time in Uganda first in order to get a visa.

In Sudan, I will be visiting an organic farm project set up by Women for Women International for women victims of war. The aim of this programme is to empower women to rebuild their lives after they’ve gone through so much throughout the war. I will interview these women and document their life stories and find out how their involvement in the programme helps them to rebuild the lives they’ve lost and how they are making a different to their families and communities. We would like you to provide detailed case study information on 2 women who are WfWI programme participants, who have come to us as victims of war, and through their involvement in the programme are rebuilding their lives, and making a difference to their families and, ideally their communities.

This voluntary project is related to the Join Me on the Bridge Campaign, a campaign to celebrate International Women’s Day and bring peace to the nation. I will write more about this campaign later.

I will try to write various blogs about my experiences in Uganda and Sudan, because as you can imagine, my trip will be very adventurous and exciting! I hope you will be interested in following me on this journey and celebrate the power of women and peace with me!