Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image


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!!

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

Jolien in Afghanistan

Jolien documented her stay in Afghanistan on Jolien in Afghanistan.