“Arjan inspires, touches and activates people as motivational speaker. His personal, authentic and fascinating way of telling his tragic but brave story definitely makes people wonder about their own freedom of choice and freedom of mind. It teaches people about self-reflection, courage, self-esteem and building rapport. Arjans manages to link his story to the lives of the people within the audience and activates and empowers them.
For 15 years, through speaking, workshops, and coaching Arjan assisted thousands of people and organisations in increasing their own freedom. It helped them to reach their goals and live a life they really want.
Arjan was born and raised in Rotterdam. He grew up in a close-knit and warm family with two more brothers and one sister. In his youth, he played at Alexandria’66 and boxed at the famous Rotterdam boxing school Theo Huizenaar.
After high school, he studied logistics management for a year, but then he followed his heart and went on to study cultural anthropology at Radboud University Nijmegen. He did his graduation assignment on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières in a refugee camp in northern Uganda. After his studies he wanted to return to the field to see even more of the world, to help people in need and to work together with international colleagues.
But due to lack of disasters, there was no work to be found in the emergency aid. After a short time at Robeco, MSF called if he wanted to go to the field for them and so he ended up in Tajikistan where he worked as a logistics manager for almost two years. He learned Russian and met his later wife Amina.
After three more missions in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Sierra Leone, he was able to work as country manager in Russia. A great career move to work in the largest country in the world in one of the most dangerous places that existed at the age of 32.
Unfortunately, Arjan fell victim to a kidnapping. But luckily he survived this tough time. After his kidnapping, Arjan first takes some rest to recover. After half a year, he started his book Ontvoeerd, which eventually became a bestseller of which more than 70,000 had already been sold.
He is soon booked as a motivational speaker. With his survival story, many inspire to also move to change or improve their lives.
In 2006 Arjan marries his Day-born wife Amina and they celebrate the birth of Anna Sophia. In 2007 he writes the book Samir. It is about the question why young people radicalize and are attracted to jihad. In his book, he follows the life of a young person convicted of terrorism in his quest and struggle. This as a warning for what society would expect. He also founded the Free a Girl foundation together with Yolanthe Cabau, Evelien Hölsken and Roelof van Laar.
The foundation frees underage girls from the sex industry. In 2010, his third book Generation YEP will follow on the emerging group of successful immigrant youngsters who will become part of the establishment and the opportunities that this entails.
In 2011 and 2012, Arabella and Adriana are coming to delight their families. In addition to speaking, Arjan and colleagues are increasingly focusing on interventions at companies with workshops and, for example, prisonday.
Arjan is also going to work internationally For the EO, a Dutch broadcaster, he will be able to present 6 episodes of the series Strange Bars in 2016. It is about Dutch prisoners who are imprisoned abroad. In 2017, Arjan and Amina will open the De Hofboog guesthouse under the longest monument in the Netherlands, the Hofplein line, in Rotterdam.
From the end of 2017 to 2020, Arjan and Jan Wilm Tolkamp, the last guitarist of the pop group Normaal, can be seen in theaters throughout the Netherlands.
MY ABDUCTION IN 2002
You run many risks working as humanitarian aid worker in conflict areas, but you learn to deal with them over time and always take precautions. Nevertheless, I was abducted on on August the 12th 2002 by four armed men. With lots of violence they got me into their car and drove me off to an unknown destination. This happened in the Russian state of Dagestan. An extremely fearful and confusing period followed, one in which I often feared for my life at moments when they started digging holes in the ground, drove me around in the trunks of their cars and left me alone for days without food or water.
A HUTCH OF 1,5 BY 2M
For 607 days I was locked up in dark cellars, heavily secured bedrooms and finally the longest period in a dark underground hutch of one and a half meters by two meters with as only company the insects and mice.
I was in this hutch for fifteen months and I did not see any faces during all this time. The heavily armed Muslim rebels who guarded me wore balaclavas. I was thrown back and forth mentally between hope and despair. Next to losing my freedom, I also had to depend on others to get me out. The worst moments were I felt not only lonely but also forgotten.
Humans ultimately turn out to be incredibly capable. I was fortunate stay alive by accepting, admonishing, making contact with my guards and taking the initiative to improve my own situation. Although I would never want to go through this again, captivity has given me surprising insights. I was forcedly confronted with myself.
On April 11, 2004, I was completely unexpectedly released. I was fantastic to be reunited with my family and friends again. I am still very grateful towards all the people that have work on my release such as Prime Minister Balkenende and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ben Bot, my family, my colleagues of Doctors without borders, people of the ministery of FA and the Dutch Embassy in Moscow.
I also feel very thankful to the amazing support of ordinary Dutch people who I didn’t know. Their warmth and friendliness helped me to get my life back,
I learned the hard way that I can surprise myself, surpass myself and have much more power and influence than I ever imagined.
From August 2002 to April 2004, armed and masked Muslim rebels in Dagestan imprisoned me under appalling conditions for 607 days. My hostage situation was a long battle against uncertainty, stress, lack of clarity, loneliness, despair and lack of confidence, security and comfort.
Every day could be my last. Soon I realised I had to do everything possible to make the best out of the situation I was in by looking for a connection with my kidnappers and by constantly reflecting on my own behavior.
Working on safety, trust and possibilities instead of making it worse by negativism and hostility I challenged myself every day. I learned how to push my own boundaries. I learned what patience, discipline and perseverance really mean. But I also experienced what it is like to have no more tears left to cry. I have experienced what empathy can do between mutual relationships. It helped me survive.