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Desirée van Kooten

‘Refugees are not human waste’

Dedicate herself to the most vulnerable. That is what Desirée van Kooten always wanted to do as a little girl. She is now putting that mission into practice, as a development sociologist at ZOA.

Desirée stands up for the most vulnerable

‘ZOA's mission suits me’

“Refugees are sometimes referred to in literature as human waste,” says development sociologist Desirée van Kooten. “But I am convinced that everyone is equal and entitled to the same. I hope to contribute to that in my work for ZOA.”

As a little girl she was already intrigued by stories about vulnerable people in distant countries. In her own words, Desirée van Kooten was given “an open view to the world” in her upbringing. “My father worked in shipping and travelled a lot,” she says. “He went to interesting countries, such as Yemen and Angola, and told fascinating stories. This sparked my interest in what is happening in the world.”

When she was eighteen, Desirée was allowed to travel herself. “Finally,” she recalls. “It was a dream come true.” In her summer vacation she went to Rwanda with missionary organization Youth with a Mission. “That trip painted a picture of the stories from my childhood. It made me aware of what is out there. That people really live lives than we do here. That all that luxury doesn’t necessarily have added value. It was one big eye-opener.”

Human waste

After a bachelor's degree in Cultural Anthropology & Development Studies in Nijmegen and a master's degree in Development Studies in Wageningen with a specialization in Conflict & Disaster, Desirée started working at ZOA in 2019. “Not in the job I originally wanted,” she says. “But as a fund management coordinator. I thought: let me give it a try, then at least I'll be working for ZOA. It is an organization that fits me very well in terms of mission. And the position worked out well for me in the end.”

At ZOA, Desirée says she can put her wish to work for the most vulnerable into practice. “A reputable scientist, Zygmunt Bauman, calls refugees human waste,” she says. “That's because they wouldn't contribute anything to society. I see that differently and hope to pass this on to others. I am convinced that everyone is equal and entitled to the same. That is why I want to stand up for vulnerable people. My work at ZOA allows me to contribute to this.”

Desirée van Kooten

Work culture

She has since taken on other duties, but the bulk of Desirée's work is still managing funds for project financing. “I receive project proposals from the countries where ZOA works,” she explains. “And then I look to see if there are funds available. These are mostly experimental projects. This allows the teams to show that a new approach works, and then deploy it on a larger scale with money from a large donor.”

She does the job with great pleasure. “In this position I have a lot of contact with international colleagues and I am working with funds and budgets. At the same time, I try to translate this into manageable information for donors. I am very involved and know what is happening on the ground. I enjoy that.”

She also likes the work culture within ZOA. “Many specialists work here in all kinds of areas, from customer contact to finance and programmes. But no one is more or less. Everyone is needed to carry out our mission. We do it together and that's how we get it done."

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