"That day our beautiful daughter and sister, Sophia, went missing in Murchison Falls National Park."
Dear people of Uganda, Wednesday, October 28 2020 may be an ordinary day for you.
For us, a Dutch family of five, living in Amsterdam, it marks the ultimate nightmare, which started exactly five years ago.
That day our beautiful daughter and sister, Sophia, went missing in Murchison Falls National Park.
A medical student, she had come to Uganda two months earlier to work as an intern in Lubaga hospital in Kampala. She quickly took to the country and its people, in one of her first weekly reports to us she wrote:‘I am starting to get used to Uganda more and more. The way of life, habits. I am almost considering simply staying in Africa, cause geez, it's so relaxed here!' She enjoyed working with the nurses and doctors at Lubaga.
On her last day of work there she wrote: ‘Before we left I really wanted to say a warm goodbye to everyone in the hospital.
We gave our medical goggles and white coats to the midwives and surgeons who were very happy with them. After saying goodbye to everyone in the maternity ward we also stopped by the other wards. I am really sorry my stay here is over.
All the people here are so sweet. I will truly miss them and hope to be back one day. Who knows, as a doctor of Tropical Medicine?'
The next day she left for her trip through the country, prior to returning home. Six days later she disappeared. She has not come home to this day.
We have no clue what happened to Sophia and are surrounded by an ocean of question marks. Circumstances surrounding Sophia's disappearance are very vague.
A proper investigation never took place at the time and police quickly jumped to the conclusion, without evidence, that it must have been a fatal accident. End of story.
But this story has no end and we cannot move on; Sophia's disappearance has dominated our lives for five straight years now. No child is as present as a missing child and there is no manual for parents who find themselves in this situation.
Given such unbearable circumstances, it would be easy to fall into a big black hole and then stay in a continuous state of pain and apathy but that would mean deserting Sophia. Absolutely no option.
I have travelled to Uganda many times now, telling our story over and over again. On those trips I have met lots of people; wonderful, sincere ones willing to help, some have become friends. But also those with their own agendas who might see a desperate mother as an easy way to make money.
It does continue to amaze me how many Ugandans have not heard about the young Dutch woman who went missing in Murchison Falls. This includes prominent people, even at Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Is a tourist who disappears too difficult to deal with, and then conveniently forgotten? Or simply not important? We don't know.
All this time I have been trying to convince the Ugandan and Dutch authorities to seriously investigate. When you know next to nothing, how can you rule out anything, including a crime?
Recent DNA-investigations support that scenario. The Office of the DPP agreed and ordered a fresh investigation into Sophia's disappearance, not ruling out anything.
Meeting President Museveni earlier this year gave an important boost to that investigation.
Finally, it felt like we were making progress but then a virus appeared, turned into a pandemic and affected everything, including travel and investigations. It could not have come at a worse time.
Now that Entebbe airport has reopened I hope to make my 15th trip soon. I feel my being in Uganda does make a difference. All we want is to find Sophia and uncover the truth. We will never give up hope of finding her alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know. We need to find peace.
Madam Speaker's words, in her chambers earlier this year, are etched into my head: ‘You must not relent'. She is absolutely right. I shall not relent and Sophia must not and cannot be forgotten.
Please help us find her.