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Anne Dinkelman

Kryvyi Rih by bike

Anne Dinkelman goes to work by bike. Even now that she works for ZOA in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih. The 27-year-old business economist from the Netherlands leads the ZOA team in southeastern Ukraine. “I am happy that I can be of significance for the people here.”

Anne Dinkelman works for ZOA in Ukraine

'I can really be of significance here'

She has been living in Ukraine for over a year and a half now and feels like a fish in water. Anne Dinkelman cycles every day to the ZOA office in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih. The 27-year-old business economist from the Netherlands leads the ZOA team in southeastern Ukraine. A conversation about her motivation to work for ZOA in Ukraine.

You studied business administration and economics in Amsterdam. Why didn't you choose a commercial career? 

“I always really liked economics, even in high school, which is why I started studying it. But I also knew that I wanted to do something to help people. As a child, I often accompanied my parents on mission trips from church, to areas where people are less fortunate than in the Netherlands. After a year of studying, I decided to work in a refugee camp in Greece. That was when I knew for sure: I didn’t want to go into the banking world. I went back to finish my studies and then started at ZOA.”

Why did you choose to go to Greece as a volunteer after your first year of study?

“I was supposed to go on holiday, but unfortunately that trip was cancelled. Then I really didn't know what to do. I was thinking about how to organize my holiday differently, but God said very clearly to me: refugees, Greece, one month, go. Then I started googling. I didn't really care for refugees, but God turned my heart around. A month on Lesbos turned into two years.”

And after graduating, you immediately started a traineeship at ZOA?

"Yes. I could choose between a traineeship in Sudan or Uganda. I chose Sudan because of this country's ties with the Middle East and the Arab world, which I had gained experience with on Lesbos. There were many people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Anne Dinkelman

Ukraine is a bit different. How did you get there?

“Towards the end of my traineeship, ZOA was busy building up the programme in Ukraine, after the war broke out. They asked me if I wanted to do something in Ukraine, because I had indicated that I wanted to get involved in disaster response. That feels extra hands-on to me. Providing direct help, being in very direct contact with people, being close to the projects. That's what I wanted.

What exactly does ZOA do in southeastern Ukraine?

“From the cities of Kryvyi Rih and Mykolaiv we provide people with financial support to restore their homes, but also to rebuild their lives. We help them find ways to earn an income again, for example by setting up a small business or becoming self-sufficient with small farms.”

Does working in an emergency setting suit you?

“Yes, I am challenged to give everything and make a difference. I particularly like the quick response we are able to offer directly after a missile attack. On multiple occasions we have been able, thanks to our donor European Union, to respond within a week by repairing houses that were damaged. At those times you are fully in emergency mode, and make sure people are assisted as quickly as possible.

You have been working in Ukraine for over a year and a half now. What affects you most?

“What touches me most in a positive sense is the resilience of the people. When I hear what they've been through. When I see what they've been through. When I see the villages that have been completely destroyed. Yet, people continue with their lives, without complaining in the winter and the cold. But also when I look at our staff. There is no end in sight to this war, but they continue anyway. That touches me."

Anne Dinkelman

And what do you find difficult?

“What I find really difficult to see is the hopelessness for the children. The conflict is now going on for a long time and there is no end in sight. This is sad, especially in villages where the future is uncertain, where children hardly see other children and have lost family members. For example, I spoke to a woman who we helped restore her house. She had three children and lost all three, on three separate occasions, to bomb blasts. Can you imagine that?"

How can you offer hope in such a situation?

“By just listening to such a story. To be there for a moment. We came to register her for our cash-for-shelter programme, through which we give money to people to repair their homes. She needed new windows and a new roof. But what she really needed at that moment was to just talk and drink a cup of tea together. It was good for her to have a few young people over who paid attention to her.  Thanks to our donor European Union I am able to help many people by providing cash to damaged households. This helps to provide people with long term solutions in an emergency situation. The European Union programme allows us to provide more than just the materials, because it brings us in contact with people whom we can support emotionally.”

Do you spend a lot of time in the field at people's homes?

“I would like to do it every week, but that is often not possible. My colleagues go four out of five days. During a typical working day, I am in contact with the team members, checking what they need from me. I also make plans and consult with various partners who do similar activities.”

What do the Ukrainians need to continue?

“Moral support is very much needed. Early in the war there was a lot of support from Europe, the US and other areas. It is important that this support continues, that the world continues to pay attention to the suffering in Ukraine and, above all, that it does not become normalized. That contributes a lot to the resilience of Ukrainians.”

Anne Dinkelman

And you? Will you continue cycling in Kryvyi Rih for the time being?

“For now, I'm in the right place here. I am happy that ZOA gives me a lot of confidence and freedom to do this work and I also feel supported in my development. However, I did come here with the goal of transferring my position to local staff. I am consciously working towards that.”

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