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Alumna in Jordan: Maaike van Adrichem

Maaike van Adrichem (33) has made time to talk about her work in Jordan. She should really be on her way from Amman, the capital city where she lives, to the huge Za’atari refugee camp. The camp is ninety minutes away, in the middle of the desert, close to the Syrian border. It would normally be hot and dry, but the weather this Thursday afternoon is dreadful, explains Van Adrichem. ‘There was a sandstorm yesterday, followed by a thunder storm. We even had hail; the streets were awash. All trips were cancelled.’

Maaike van Adrichem

Van Adrichem’s work for UNICEF, the UN children’s organization, often takes her to the camps, where she focuses on girls and young women and the violence they face.

When she was offered the job for UNICEF in Jordan five years ago, Van Adrichem jumped at the chance. She became interested in the Middle East during her degree programme in International Relations & International Organization. After doing a placement at the Dutch embassy in Amman, she returned just in time. ‘It was a few months before the Arab Spring erupted. The entire region was in chaos. It’s been full on ever since.’

Van Adrichem is right in the thick of it. She started specializing in child protection in Jordan two years ago, as the stream of Syrian refugees reached its peak. ‘The first time I was there, Za’atari was a tragic, desperate place; total chaos. I found it hard to accept that you can’t do everything that needs to be done.’

But Van Adrichem soon realized that there was a lot she could do. By helping to stop child marriages, for example, which are standard practice in some parts of Syria. The dire conditions in the camp meant that even more young girls were being married off than in the home situation. ‘Ironically, these people see marriage as a form of child protection. The girls are in ‘goodhands.’

Van Adrichem is deeply impressed by the sheer willpower of the refugees. She had paid little attention to this aspect during her first visits to the camp. ‘You mustn’t focus on the despair and problems. Depressed aid workers are no help at all. The Syrian refugees are extremely resilient and resourceful. A lot of them have started new undertakings and some of them have managed to get hold of a bike and cycle around the camp. There’s even a family that keeps carrier pigeons. You have to respect peoples strength. This is the most ethical way of getting along with them.’

In her dealings with very young mothers, Van Adrichem sees a huge contrast between the Syrian refugees and her own view of the world. ‘They cannot understand that I’m married but don’t have children. When I was seventeen, my life was nothing like the life these girls lead. That can be difficult.’

Text: John Hermse

Source: Broerstraat 5, the alumni magazine of the University of Groningen

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.15 p.m.
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