Articles from De Colve X – 2005: Kenya and Sri Lanka

familie kolff

John Wouter Kolff (CBCD XVIIIw) writes about his experiences in Sri Lanka and Kenya

Bad luck! For the second time during my stay here down with the flue: a result of the continuous temperature changes from 35 degrees Celsius outdoors to almost freezing temperatures caused by the use of air-conditioning. I have to use all my skills to persuade all the kind people that I do not appreciate air-conditioning all the time.
I am at Sri-Lanka on two assignments for the Netherlands Red Cross: to co-ordinate the emergency aid for relief of the damages caused by the recent tsunami, and to identify activities for the Netherlands Red Cross in the second phase after the tsunami: rehabilitation. Less than a month ago I was in China facilitating a workshop and other activities for the Red Cross when I got a phone call requesting me to travel to Sri-Lanka at shortest notice. This is my life: always packing and unpacking, it seems nothing is predictable.

But not all: I am often at my home in Nairobi, Kenya, where my daughter of now nine years old needs my presence and support. Support like helping her with homework from school, the Dutch school in Nairobi, something that is difficult for her mother, my Kenyan partner. It is often difficult to assess where I am needed most: in Kenya or for the Netherlands Red Cross.

Travelling south from the capital Colombo the damages of the tsunami are soon to be seen. Desperate people are seen searching for their belongings at their heavily damaged property. Further south a mass grave, hastily dug after the disaster, now being re-opened for identification of the victims. The silence of the people weighs heavily. Positive developments are to be seen too: return of faith in the future thanks to great projects initiated by the Sri-Lankese government and international aid. One of the places where the Netherlands Red Cross is active is Galle. Galle has historical ties with the Netherlands: for long the capital of the island in the almost two centuries that the Dutch were active here. Now we are back: but with a different task.

I will go back to Kenya in two weeks to be united with my daughter and my friend. It also is a return to ever increasing violence, a not-working telephone, non reliable energy supplies, sponsors that retreat from their projects, disappointed by a corrupt government. However, it is also a return to happy people that know how to enjoy life, even in hardship. While the eyes of the world are now focussed on Asia the many and big disasters that hit Africa are again out of focus. Yet the people dance, sing, and laugh, and keep hoping for a better future! This is why I love Africa and why I enjoy living there. As European I will never be an African amongst Africans, but I feel at home there. All is well here for me!

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Summarized translation of the original text by Marius Kolff, secretary of the association, and brother of John Wouter; original text in full at Dutch language section