Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image

southern sudan

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.


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.

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.’

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:

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