BLOG – MY EXPERIENCES
BLOG by NAYTHAN (KENYAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER)
I am a human rights defender, a volunteer – I am not paid for my work by any organisation. I come from a country in Africa where people have to contend with many problems in their daily life, for example police brutality or the current rise in ethnically charged hate speech in the run-up to the 2017 general elections. The possibility to come to Europe as part of the Shelter City programme was like an unreachable dream, something for people perhaps from richer countries. These were my thoughts when I was filling in the application form. When I heard, a month later, that I had been selected to come to the Netherlands, I thought about how I could have a change of circumstances, to rest perhaps a little from the stress of my work and also how I could learn new and better ways of tackling the work.
When I arrived in the Netherlands at Schiphol airport, it had been my very first time in an aero plane. I had enjoyed the flight, as if I had been in a flying hotel. At Schiphol, the police were very different from police in Kenya: they asked me – politely – about what my destination in the Netherlands was, what my purpose was, even without asking for my passport. They assisted me in finding the taxi that was picking me up to take me to Maastricht, a very different experience from how the Kenyan police would treat a person!
The people that I have met since I arrived in in Maastricht have been very friendly. I have met with many international students, with officials from the University College of Maastricht (UCM) and people from the City Council. In particular the meeting I had with Mrs. Annemarie Penn, the Mayor of Maastricht was very special. She took a personal interest in my story and said that if I had any problems, her door was always open. It was so unbelievable for me; I had a photo taken of myself with this lady. She even offered me a cup of tea (!).
The students and staff of UCM have also been very hospitable. I have made many new friends among them. They have for example been inviting me, as when lecturer Gustavo Arosemena asked me, to talk about my work and experiences to students at his lectures. I talked about my work in the country districts in Kenya, showed them photos of human rights violations and also a film about police corruption that I had made. It is also impressive that the students at UCM are from so many different countries over the whole world. It strikes me among the people I have met that there is little or no discrimination between them and the relations are harmonious.
I have also met the members of the Amnesty International group in Maastricht. I was able to talk to them about my work and listened to their plans for their own activities. I talked about human rights violations, corruption among the police and politicians in my country and how human rights defenders are being oppressed, tortured and even killed by the authorities.
In general it has struck me that while there is great respect for human rights in the Netherlands, you do not see many police officers on the streets. In my own country it is the opposite: there are many problems with human rights and the police are everywhere! And one more thing: in the Netherlands and in Kenya, people pay taxes; but the services that the people of the Netherlands receive are much better than in my own country, where many poor people have very little benefit from the taxes they pay.
I followed a digital security training organized by Justice and Peace in The Hague on 5th and 6th October. For me the idea of digital security was something I had not thought deeply about before, but this course made me realise how very important this is.
I must also make a special mention of the lady from the Mondiaal Centrum in Maastricht, Eline van Drongelen, who has been kind to me and spent a lot of time with me, helping me with practical problems and just by being a friend to me.
Finally I would like to express my thanks to Justice and Peace Netherlands and in particular to Alexia and Leroy for their help and good communication with me.