Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

I removed my children from a school in Overvecht

“Someone rang the doorbell”, explains Mary Loboka. She and her daughter had arrived in the Netherlands on the previous day to join her husband who lived on Biltstraat in Utrecht. “I’d been told not to open the door to strangers and as I didn’t know anybody in this country, I stayed where I was on the sofa.” Later, Loboka found a bouquet of flowers on her doorstep. It was the girl next door who had rung the bell. “My husband and I went round to thank her that evening and she’s been my ‘Dutch family’ ever since.”

Loboka was born 55 years ago in Kajo Keji, about 100 kilometres from the capital of South Sudan. Her mother wanted her five daughters to go to school, like her son. When Loboka was seven, the family fled to North Uganda to escape the war. “The shooting started at night”, says Loboka. “I was terrified. My grandmother literally ran from the village carrying my sister and me on her back.”

Three years later, it was safe enough to return to South Sudan. Loboka finished primary school and went to a secondary school in the capital, Juba. This is where she met her husband, who taught at her school as a voluntary teacher in the summer while the university was closed. He moved to the Netherlands (Hilversum to be precise) to take a technical degree course, and Loboka and their daughter joined him in 1986.

Helping and swinging

In those days, integrating in the Netherlands was very different, says Loboka. “White people were interested to meet a coloured person like me. They usually asked where I came from, which is practically unheard of nowadays.” They moved from Biltstraat to Overvecht, where their three other children were born. Loboka’s mother had drummed into her that ‘you’ll get nowhere without school’. She sent her children to the local primary school in Overvecht, but Loboka wasn’t happy.

“Conflicts are common in Overvecht because so many nationalities live at such close quarters. My children were growing up with fights in the classrooms and poor teaching, because the teachers couldn’t control their classes. I wasn’t happy with their results.” So she decided to remove her children from that particular school. Finding a better school proved difficult; all the good schools had waiting lists. She tried another strategy and wrote a letter to the alderman responsible for education in Utrecht. Acknowledging that keeping children at home wasn’t an option, he recommended De Beiaard in Tuindorp. No sooner said than done.

Now that all the children except one have left home, Loboka has time to focus on other things. She visits and helps African refugees in Utrecht, goes to the weekly ‘Lapjesmarkt’ to buy fabric and enjoys the occasional ‘swing’ in TivoliVredenburg. She also does all she can to help her country of birth; she and her ‘Dutch family’ have founded a school and set up various projects for women in Kajo Keji. She’s currently setting up a sewing studio. “I want to keep my brain cells ticking over,” she laughs.


Name: Mary Loboka
Place of birth: Kajo keji, South Sudan
Year of birth: 1 January 1962
Motto: ‘Be yourself, and have faith in yourself

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.

Article by Annabel van Heesbeen.