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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!

The most Northern place in the South

Last Wednesday the team and I arrived in Renk, the most Northern city in Southern Sudan, I can’t get any ‘northerner’!

With an extremely loud voice proclaiming ‘Alleluia’ from a nearby church in the background, I thought I should write a little update about the progress of the work here. The last couple of days we spent mobilising the participants for the workshop on cross-border relations that should start upcoming Thursday. We crossed the Nile (!) to visit the commissioner of Manyio county and he promised to invite the chiefs, representatives of women groups, leaders of youth groups, religious leaders, trade union leaders, etc. The same goes for Maban and Renk County.

This means that next Wednesday 73 participants will arrive from different areas on the North/South Sudan border to talk about their post-referendum future here in the city of Renk!

As you can imagine, a lot of practical things will have to be in place, and we have been working hard to achieve this: meetings with caterers, guesthouses, interpreters, government officials, civil society leaders, commissioners, etc. But how exciting it is! Everyone is extremely supportive and cooperative and wondering why no one came to them to do this a year earlier. Well, the only thing I can say is that we are here now!

My living circumstances are quite luxurious for local standards, but in my weak moments I find them not always easy! We have problems with electricity (which means no fans to cool us off a little!), very primitive and shared (!) latrines and showers, and hardly no internet. But it brings great benefits!! We live in tukuls (huts of clay and straw), we get to sleep outside under the most beautiful starry sky, and the sun is always shining.

Once the workshop is in progress I will write another entry. Until then, I am hoping for rain. Not only does that mean we will cool off but this also means that the roads will be too muddy to drive back, which means we will return to Malakal via the Nile. 8 hours on a boat on the Nile. Fantastic!!

From Juba to Malakal to Renk

Last Saturday I flew from Juba to Malakal where we spent the last couple of days preparing for our journey to and our workshop in Renk. We have been planning peace with the acting Governor (Your Excellency) of Upper Nile State!!!

Tomorrow I will leave by road from Malakal to Renk (see right side of the photo of map) which promises to be an exciting journey as the road may not be very well due to the rain we have had so far, even though it hasn’t rained much at all and it is very hot!

Many of you have asked what it is that I actually will be doing on the inner border of Sudan. Well, here is a short summary:

The Cross-Border Relations Project

Concordis International is working in Sudan in partnership with the Centre for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS) of the University of Juba to facilitate a research-based dialogue project aiming to inform local and national peace and development processes, supporting cooperative, secure and economically viable relations across Sudan’s North-South border beyond 2011.

The project involves engaging border communities and authorities in the states along the North-South border as well as decision makers and opinion leaders in Khartoum and Juba. A round of workshops are being facilitated in the border states, informed by a team comprising Concordis staff, CPDS researchers, and senior African experts. After these statelevel meetings, the project will bring workshop participants and additional policy makers together in a series of regional cross-border workshops, conferences, and briefings.


The borderland between Northern and Southern Sudan is the locus for a number of conflict triggers which could undermine security for border communities, national peace processes, and in turn regional security. Whether the 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese self-determination delivers unity or secession, there are significant risks of escalating tensions and renewed violence in both scenarios. In either scenario, the way in which social, economic and security relations across the border are managed could determine whether conflicts resume or peace is sustained.

The needs and interests of border communities, as well as those of state elites, should be reflected. If either condition fails, sources of instability may outweigh sources of calm.

2010 will see high level negotiations between the parties to the CPA on post-2011 arrangements. The Cross Border Relations Project is working to support border populations to consider, agree and articulate what kind of arrangements would meet their needs and provide a basis for a viable and peaceful future.

Core Aims and Objectives of the Project:

– Build trust and understanding between border communities within and across border states; – Develop consensus on principles for how the border should be managed peacefully;

– Develop proposals on development initiatives to support peaceful coexistence at the border;

– Introduce principles and proposals to relevant national and local peace processes, such as negotiations on post-2011 arrangements, and to inform donor policy to reflect local needs.

Activity Summary:

December—February 2010 Initial engagements in border states and development of methodology

March-June 2010 State workshops in Unity, Upper Nile, Abyei, South Kordofan, White Nile, and Blue Nile.

June-July 2010 Regional workshops bringing together communities from both sides of the border.

August –October 2010 Policy briefings and national level conferences.


On my way back… back to Sudan!

I realise I have not posted anything for a long time. Some of you may think I am still in Southern Sudan! No, I did make it back to England where I started a fulltime position as a Programme Development Researcher with Concordis International.

It is for this job that I am now currently in Kampala meeting old friends (no, unfortunately not Tom) to apply for my travel permit to back to Southern Sudan. I managed to secure one today and will be leaving tomorrow to work with the Cross Border Relations Project.

Concordis is working in partnership with the Juba University Centre for Peace and Development Studies (CPDS) to facilitate a research-based dialogue informing local and national processes aimed at ensuring cooperative, secure and economically viable relations across Sudan’s North-South border: The Cross Border Relations Project (CBRP).

The process involves engaging decision makers and opinion leaders in Khartoum and Juba as well as border communities and authorities in strategic locations along the North- South border.

A round of workshops are being facilitated in all the border states, informed by a research team comprising Concordis staff, CPDS researchers, and senior African experts. The project will then bring participants and policy makers together in a series of regional cross border workshops, conferences, and policy briefings.

As you can imagine, this is an exciting project to work with! I will be travelling to remote areas so may not be in touch much, but please occasionally check my website, Twitter or the website of Concordis to see what I am up to!

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.’

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!!