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Antony Caleesious

Antony Caleesious: from refugee to ZOA country director

Antony Caleesious had to flee his beloved country Sri Lanka twice as a child due to the civil war. I remember how hard it was for our family to survive as refugees in India. I did not have access to proper education. That inspired me to work for a refugee organisation. It is my goal to support refugees as much as possible, especially education for children is really important.''

A career at ZOA

ZOA is an organisation where you get a lot of opportunities.”

Antony started working for ZOA in Sri Lanka 18 years ago. Now, he is ZOA's country director in Nigeria. The challenges in this country are enormous. The gigantic population of over 200 million people is caught in the stranglehold of violence. Emergency aid is therefore our first priority,” explains Antony. But we are also taking steps to ensure that people become less dependent.''

Since 2021, Antony has been working as Country Director in Nigeria. “Poverty is a major problem here. The recent COVID pandemic has made these communities more vulnerable in terms of access to food security and livelihood. But even more profound is the fear that people live in due to insurgencies and attacks by Boko Haram. The population is caught between two fires here. They can't move freely because of the escalating violence and robberies. Instead of de-escalation, we see the situation only getting worse.”


Living for years in such violent and precarious conditions has made people dependent on aid. ''Often, we see that people invest in their livelihoods, but lose it all due to violent raids on their village. The Nigerian government can't help all the people affected by violence. They really depend on aid organisations such as ZOA for their survival."

Long-term solutions

The primary focus for ZOA in Nigeria is on emergency aid. Nevertheless, Antony aims to develop a long-term strategy in this complex context. The story of the Good Samaritan urges me to do this. If the Samaritan has to travel further, he also arranges for long-term care. At ZOA, too, it's not about our projects. We work in programme areas where we try to address the needs of the people to the best of our abilities. We ask the question: what do people need in the follow-up process? I think it is a very important part of my work to have this conversation with people.”

Anthony in the field, talking with people


One of ZOA's core values is to place people at the centre of it's work. That seems obvious, but is not self-evident. If you focus on people, then you act in the interests of the refugees. This is somethimes a challenge, because the needs of the people don't always match the requirements of donors.'' Over the past 18 years, Antony has learned a lot about working in this Netherlands-based international organisation: I like the fact that ZOA is a hierarchically flat organisation. I really feel that every opinion counts. Because you often work in complex situations, you have to be innovative all the time. At ZOA, I get all the space I need to innovate and develop. This search for new paths fits in very well with my eagerness to learn and my talents, so this helps so that I can do my work with a lot of motivation.”

Antony is part of a team of 1000 committed colleagues all over the world. We are here for people who have lost everything in a war or a disaster. Interested in working for ZOA?

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