Dutch Mother Won’t give up Search for Her Missing Daughter

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Sophia arrived at the Student’s Education Centre on that fateful Wednesday afternoon with two travel companions and their tour guide. She apparently went to the latrines, some forty metres away from the room but never returned.
Sophia Isabella Federika and her mum Marije Slijkerman

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Marije Slijkerman has made 18 trips now to Uganda from The Netherlands in search of the whereabouts of her daughter Sophia, a medical student who worked as an intern in Rubaga Hospital in Kampala. She went missing from the Student’s Education Centre at Murchison Falls National Park on October 28th, 2015.    

Sophia checked in at the Student’s Education Centre on that fateful Wednesday with two fellow students and their tour guide. It is said she went to the latrines, some 40 meters away from their room, but she never returned. Several searches were mounted by Ugandan security forces and Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers at the time but to date, Sophia is still missing.   

Some of her belongings were recovered along the riverbank, more than 40 hours after Sophia’s disappearance. Pieces of her trousers were found, some tied to branches on the ground, her knickers hanging high up in a tree, prescription sunglasses, one shoe, two insoles, and a small African purse. 

They were spread out over about 45 meters and left more questions than answers.   Ideally, the items would have pointed to Sophia's whereabouts but they didn’t. Sophia’s family has been living with the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to their missing daughter and sister for all this time now. Her mother is not about to give up until she gets some kind of closure. 

Slijkerman has met president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, top army generals, Ministers, security officials, and local leaders in her quest to find her daughter. Speaking to URN last week, with tears coming from her eyes, Slijkerman, said that to date, she is still in a state of shock and disbelief about the whole situation and what could have happened to her daughter.  

She, however, does have a feeling that someday, her daughter will show up. The life of her family has never been the same after Sophia, their daughter, and sister disappeared in Uganda.       

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Slijkerman says words like pleasure and joy have lost most of their meaning for her but she does her very best to be a good mother to her two sons, both students, who of course miss their sister very much as well. Sophia is always there in her mother’s mind and heart.  

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Not knowing if Sophia is alive, where she could be, under what circumstances, and how she is being treated, is the toughest thing Slijkerman ever has had to deal with. She feels she has been on an emotional roller coaster all this time and it never stops.   

Slijkerman knows very well that she is not alone; she is aware there are many other people who have missing relatives or friends. She says that losing a child is the hardest thing that can happen to someone but not knowing what happened to your child is the toughest. 

“If a child is knocked dead by a car, you will never get over it, but you do know what happened, you can say your final farewell and you can try to find some form of closure,” She said. “When your child goes missing, you have nothing, it is an ongoing trauma, it eats you up inside, the continuous struggle between hope and despair, there is no closure, it devastates you.”  

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Slijkerman says that Sophia is an intelligent girl who thrived and scored highly on Science subjects in school and effortlessly passed all her medical exams. Sophia believes in always doing her very best and thoroughly enjoyed her internship experience in urban Uganda.

Some of the people she worked with referred to her as a doctor born naturally. 

Sophia had planned to spend eight weeks doing her internship, another 17 days traversing the country before flying back to the Netherlands. To this day she has not come home. Her mother takes trips several times each year in her search. She says as a mother, she does not have the feeling that her daughter is gone.   

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Sophia’s mum feels more can be done than has been done up to now. She knows when nothing is sure, everything is possible but an attack by a wild animal can be ruled out. Nothing points in that direction, no indication of a struggle, no blood traces, and no remains were found after Sophia’s disappearance. 

She is a good swimmer so drowning seems unlikely. Although the search for Sophia has been unsuccessful till now, Slijkerman thinks her missing child's story must be kept alive so she writes articles and speaks with media, both in Uganda and at home in The Netherlands. And hopes her daughter will return home one day.  

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In as far as investigations are concerned, in 2019 the Director of Public Prosecution requested a fresh investigation, not ruling out anything. This investigation is still ongoing. Slijkerman says that up to now no real leads have come up but there is hope it will. And that one-day Sophia will be back where she belongs, in Amsterdam, with family.  

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Slijkerman says that although the investigations were moving slowly, her meeting with President Museveni in January 2020 helped expedite the investigations. Unfortunately, things slowed down considerably again after the pandemic hit but they did not entirely come to a standstill. 

She hopes her recent visit will make a difference again and that one day the search for her daughter will be successful and they can all have a normal life again.