All posts by boukanne

Where to go? There, where there is most need?

For those who want to read quick and efficient; please go directly to the last paragraph.
For the others, enjoy the reading towards the last paragraph.

Vulnerable households are those who had to flee their own village because of fighting. They walked for days with a few items they could carry and had to find a new secure place to live. Vulnerable households are households where a pregnant women is leading a family with 8 children and possessing only one small cooking pot and a tiny jerry can. Vulnerable households are elderly people who don’t have family left and need to take care of themselves while they are prone to sickness.

Being vulnerable in the humanitarian context means that life circumstances are impacting your ability to have equal access to human rights. Your capacity is diminished to anticipate, cope, resist and recover from natural or man-made disaster or conflict. People differ how they are exposed to risks as a result of their social group, gender, identity, age etc. With our work we are looking which people are in need the most. Even if the entire population is affected, we need to make this focus on the most vulnerable to be able to have the highest impact with the work we are doing. And since it takes time and resources to reach everyone, prioritisation is also needed. So we are aiming for the biggest impact, in the shortest time with the fewest resources.

I have struggled with this a lot. How can you prioritise a need? Is one need more important than another? And does this mean that someone deserves help more than another? How can you prioritise who to support, where to support, when to support and what type of support to give? Because if you decide that there is most need in place A, it means you can’t be in place B at the same time. So people in place B will still struggle to survive. I find this difficult and painful to accept.

Someone said to me that prioritisation of the needs can be compared with a triage in medical emergencies and disasters. The triage is used to determine the priority of the patient’s treatment based on the severity of their condition. An example is the wounded people in a battlefield; they are assessed by a doctor and labelled in 3 different categories. The labels indicate the patient’s need for medical treatment and transport from the battlefield. The three categories prioritise which people to treat immediate, before others, to save the most lives:

  • Category 1. There are those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive. These are the people who are less affected, or who had the right capacities to cope with the disaster themselves. Maybe they still need help later because they don’t have all the human rights, but there is no direct life-threat.
  • Category 2. There are those who are unlikely to live, regardless of what care they receive. They are either already dead or beyond help. Of course this is tragic, but it is a waste to spend time and resources on them.
  • Category 3. There are those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome. This is obviously the group of people where you can have an immediate life-saving impact. Those are the vulnerable people who are in need the most, the group we try to aim for.

If it is put like this, prioritising needs sounds very helpful and logically as well. Still I will not be able to go to place B at the same time as place A. But even when that one drop of water falls precisely in your mouth, it does provide relief. That is where I am holding unto. There is still hope.

We recently did a distribution where we tried to reach the most vulnerable households in a remote village. The distributed kits with items included blankets, cooking pots, a bucket, hygiene items and fishing tools. An impression of this intervention can be seen below. I am sure that the distributed items supports the households to recover from their circumstances, which will impact their life immediately.

Having a big impact. Doing things quickly but efficient. No waste of money. Always busy and having no time. Goal oriented. It sounds like a familiar Western thought… So let me give you one word of advice: If you are on your way to reach your goal while you are juggling five other balls around, please don’t forget to meet the people along your way. Look around and spend time to truly see the other. That is what I am trying to do as well. I hope I can make the right decisions how to prioritize the needs. But while I am running to the big crowd who are in need the most, I will still open my eyes and stop when I am seeing someone sitting along the road. This is giving me unexpected surprises, true connection and a more purpose-driven life!

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.


About Rain and Relaxation, and being lucky I am not made out of ice-cubes

Rest and Relaxation (R&R) is often a topic for conversation amongst aid workers. It is a bit like how we are talking about the weather in the Netherlands. If you meet someone, the way to start a conversation is making a comment about the weather. This is how you come closer to each other. Whether it is stating that it is sunny, or complaining that it is too windy, you will always get a reaction. You talk about the weather with strangers if you are waiting for the bus. You talk about the weather when you are making plans for the weekend. You talk about how the weather has been in your last holiday. And you talk about the weather when you are calling with your parents from South Sudan. We just can’t stop talking about the weather. Maybe because we have different seasons and the weather can even have the four seasons in one day.

Some ‘outsiders’ might say that it is always raining in the Netherlands; this is not true, on average it is 93% of the time dry. We do however distinguish between different types of rain, to describe accurately whether it ‘miezert’ or ‘stormt’ or ‘stortregent’ or ‘hoost’ or ‘plenst’ or ‘motregent’. We even have an app called ‘Buienrader’ which is used frequently nowadays before you go outside, to see whether it is raining. I see it more as an app to mentally prepare yourself for something. Because obviously when I look outside I can see whether it is raining or not, and even if I am too lazy to walk to the window the rain will not prevent me from going outside anyway. It is just mentally good to know if the rain will pass by quickly or if there is a very serious storm coming up.

Before I will go to the R&R topic, I cannot skip my obligation now to talk about the weather in South Sudan. Well, I can tell you, I only need two words to describe this weather and that is that it is ‘very hot’. And especially when you are in the field without any air conditioning, except for the warm wind blowing in your face, this can be very hard. And it is everyday the same, I don’t need different words to describe the intense sun rays on my face. In this tropical climate it is now the hottest period of the year (Feb-April), before the summer rains are coming. It easily reaches 40°C, with peaks of 45°C on a day. Always being sweaty, and always feeling hot, that is what it’s like. You can imagine I would have loved to be in the Netherlands when everyone got crazy about the freezing weather a few weeks ago, which made it possible to ice-skate on the frozen lakes and canals. In the Netherlands when it is raining really hard and people are complaining we use to say: ‘you are not made out of sugar’. Maybe what I need to say to myself right now is ‘I am not made out of ice cubes’. So don’t complain about being in the heat. Just face it.

So R&R is the topic you cannot skip when you are talking to other humanitarians. You can start with asking about their last R&R experiences, or discuss great places to go to for your next R&R. Then another thing is to tell how crazy long your last rotation has been (a rotation is the period of working between two R&Rs), or how many weeks you still need to go before you can leave the country. You can even discuss the whereabouts of your other colleague to another colleague; where you think he went to on R&R and when he is probably coming back. And then if you are talking to someone from another organisation it is always interesting to know what their R&R policies are and how long their rotations. Talking about R&R is how you start your conversation. It is how we are connected.

The idea behind Rest and Relaxation is that you are granted for leave because the working and living conditions do not allow you to rest and relax after work. We are living in a stressful working environment, in isolated and insecure locations with lack of basic facilities and privacy. So this regular time away is needed to recover mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually to prevent exhaustion, burn out and other related symptoms.

So besides all the excitements about R&R’s, that we are truly blessed to be able to visit a lot of new places and countries in such a short time, it is quite a serious thing. And I know it. And I feel that I need it. My body feels exactly in which week of my rotation I am currently in, physically and mentally. But do I fulfill the expectations that ‘the Medair worker fills this R&R time with restful activities’?

Because to be honoust: in our recent R&Rs we completely went crazy when setting foot in another country after coming from South Sudan. The freedom to walk around, and to eat whatever you like. The excitement about visiting new places. Our energy and adrenaline was just unstopable. In South Africa we drove more than 4,000 kilometers within 2 weeks time, while doing a lot of crazy activities. In the Netherlands we visited so many friends and family that sometimes we had 4 appointments in different places on one day. In Ethiopia we started hiking an intense trail at an altitude of 4,000 meter one day after we arrived. In Egypt we stept in the most uncomfortable and cheapest train, normally for poor people, bringing us to our next destination after more than 12 hours.

A question I have been asking myself a lot recently is: ‘How do I recover from my work environment’? Can you only do that by laying on the beach and doing nothing? Because already the thought about resting for a whole day (which I translate in doing nothing, going nowhere and sitting on the same place) makes me panic. I do need time on my own, to think. But I think I am actually overthinking my whole life already too much. And actually while sitting in that crazy overloaded train I was able to process my mind and put things in perspective. Also, I gain a lot of energy when having the freedom to do a lot of things.

But I know that my pitfalls are that I always go on, I don’t know my own limits. I will continue until I fall down. So with that knowledge and the reflection on our R&R habits, I start to feel guilty. Because maybe I am doing the wrong thing? Although feeling guilty is also something I need to stop doing. Because I am not perfect, although I often want to be.

You see how I am struggling with my thoughts and actions. I do think that how you travel, or how you spend your R&Rs, is in a lot of ways a metaphor for your own life. When you have the freedom to do whatever you want, you will do whatever you feel comfortable in doing at that moment.

I always like to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones, to do things they have never done, to do things differently then they normally do. I remember a friend saying to me ‘but maybe your comfort zone, is stepping out of your comfort zone all the time’. And maybe it is true. Maybe I need to find myself again, by sitting on the beach and do nothing. Luckily I am not made out of ice-cubes.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

Three samosa’s, a boiled egg and ginger tea

I am walking with my bag and camping gear through the heat of the sun towards the landing strip. Actually I should have caught my flight yesterday but the trip was cancelled one evening in advance. It was decided that the Juba airport needed maintenance and will therefore be closed. These unexpected things can only happen in South Sudan. I am very fortunate that a recovery flight was arranged. Although I need to have an overnight stay in another place I will hopefully be back in Juba before my holiday flight leaves on Friday.

I see a lot of women walking with huge bags of sorghum on their head. They just received items from a food distribution. Yesterday the items were literary dropped by an airplane of the World Food Programme. Today World Vision is distributing the items. It will take a few days. 20,000 people from the surroundings will receive sorghum and cooking oil. Some of them have walked for hours up to days. I have so much respect for these women who do everything to take care of their families. Walking barefoot for hours with more than 50 kilo of food, without having water. I am already exhausted by a 20 minute walk.

Sweaty of the sun I throw my bags under the tree. Such shadow places are always a rescue. I drink some water and sit down. In every place you arrive you will soon be surrounded by a lot of children. Kawai, kawai. My new name. They are touching my skin to feel if I am real. They are feeling my hair and really don’t know what to think of my dreads. They are laughing and talking to me in Nuer. I am tired and don’t want all this attention. The adult people will also surround you, but often a bit more from a distance. Sometimes this is even more annoying because they will just be staring. To everything you do. How you scratch your nose and how you are drinking your bottle of water, if you are not feeling too ashamed to do that in front of them. If I am in a good mood I will interact and talk and play a bit. But sometimes I just don’t have the energy to be kind and nice and do this whole play all over again, every time I arrive somewhere. I will still try to give a little smile and then I will stare a bit in the distance. Putting on sun glasses also helps. If you are lucky a man will come around and will chase the children with a stick. Then I feel even worse. Am I just a really horrible person?

After I rested for a while I watched around to the surroundings and the people around me. A boy was playing with a toy. From wooden sticks and mud clay he made a beautiful plane. He is holding it in the wind and the plastic propellers are turning around. Another boy is clearing some soil to make an airstrip. My heart fills with joy. Such little moments give me so much hope. These children are not going to school and only have one pair of clothes. If they are lucky they ate some sorghum in the morning. They are growing up in poverty and war. Guns and planes are their only source of inspiration, so that’s what they are making. But they are so creative with the things they find on the ground and are having fun together. The boy calls his plane rekros, I know he means the Red Cross.

While we are playing with the plane we hear the helicopter arriving. You always hear it first before you can see it. I am saying goodbye to my colleague and the boys. The pilot is loading my luggage. He asks me where I am coming from. He is from Russia, same as his co-pilot. He asked when I arrived in this village and I told him that I arrived two weeks ago. He looks amazed and asks how I survived for so long in such a desolate place. What did I even eat? I said that we brought rice and beans, and that sometimes you can buy fish in the small market. There are even two types of fish, the fish from the river and the fish from the mud. Mud fish. They are living in the swamps and if the swamps dry up they are able to survive in the mud. The fish is black and I find it not tasting like fish, but like mud. I also talked about the crocodiles we saw in the river when we went to even further places with the boat, and about the sheep we slaughtered on New Year’s Eve. Then it is time to enter the helicopter.

At the next stop the only other passenger is stepping out with everything he needs for the coming weeks. The guy is from WFP, the next food drop will be here. The helicopter landed in an area surrounded by swamps. As soon as the door opened horseflies welcomed us. I am now the only one left in the helicopter, it is taking off again. I am locked up with hundreds of horseflies buzzing around. The big ones, which are really painful when they sting.

The next hour I am obsessed by trying to kill the flies with a t-shirt that the pilot used to chase them out, but that didn’t really work. The flies are very persistent. Even if you slab them and they fall on the ground they will fly up again in a few seconds. I already have one sting and my arm is swollen. I feel an allergic reaction coming up. The flies terrify me, but I am persistent as well. It makes it a bit easier that the flies are looking for the light and therefore resting in the circled windows. Half an hour later I feel relieved. Dead fly bodies are surrounding me now, I don’t bother about the few that are still alive. As long as they don’t bother me.

Around lunch time the co-pilot is coming out of his cockpit. He puts a thermos flask next to me on the bench and pushes a plastic bag with food in my hands. Soon he returns to give me some napkins as well. He lifts up my ear protectors and says; “please serve yourself”.

Three samosas, a boiled egg and ginger tea. It never tasted so nice. I feel thankful for everything. Except for the flies, they are just horrible.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.


Three weeks roadtripping in South Africa and Lesotho. Although it is already some time ago we have really amazing memories of our time there. Maybe also because it was our first holiday after we started our work in South Sudan, also called our first rotation. They say that your first rotation is always hard. You arrive in a completely new world, in another culture, with different rules, regulations, insecurity, AK47s and curfews. In a country were there is so much pain and unrightiousness.

And then suddenly you have 3 weeks where you can decide on your own where you want to go. You can walk on the streets. Lay in the grass. Watching the stars.

We hired a campervan in Kaapstad and drove along the gardenroute towards Lesotho and via Kruger Park to Johannesburg. The route was more than 4,000 km and absolutely fabulous.

Surfing, camping, hiking, sightseeing, wine tasting, eating good glutenfree food, horse riding, abseiling, game driving and enjoying a lot of great views.

It was really special to be able to just walk around, drive around or run around, such freedom! We live in a beautiful world.

So mother, so child. How would you feel?

So mother, so child

If you are always on the run?
How would you feel?
Afraid? Alone? Scared?

If you lost another harvest?
How would you feel?
Frustrated? Angry? Sad?

If you can’t afford to buy food?
How would you feel?
Stupid? Insignificant? Screwed?

If you can’t feed your child?
How would you feel?
Ashamed? Hopeless? Hungry?

If there is a nutrition clinic,
3 hours walking from your house?
How would you feel?

Kruger National Park

We came across this fascinating wildlife during two amazing days in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Fascinating facial markings

There is one thing that really fascinates me, and these are the facial markings of some people in South Sudan. You see very simple ones with parallel lines on the forehead up to very complicated patterns in the face and over the arms. The first times I saw these subtle lines on the men’s forehead I thought they were normal wrinkles. But only after I saw several men with the same wrinkles I realized these were scars.

Facial scarification is practiced amongst different tribes, each with their own signs and patterns. The facial markings give identity to the tribesmen and beauty to the women. Since it is related to tribes and because at the moment there are tribal tensions in South Sudan, the topic is a bit sensitive and I don’t really dare to ask people about it. I know that for some tribes the markings are part of their initiation in adulthood. During the ceremony, young boys are cut with a razor and are not supposed to cry to show their bravery. [1]

Nowadays the tradition is phasing out, partly because of education but also because it is a too visible sign of tribality in an area where conflict within and between the tribes becomes more frequent.

The enclosed photos are portraits of Nuer people in South Sudan. Look at how these beautiful man and woman show their bravery and vulnerability at the same time, through their facial markings. It gives them an extra personality.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

[1] South Sudan facial scarification