We caught up with Loek in Duque de Rivas and learned of some of the amazing projects he has been working on. Discover his inspiring stories here!
Q: Tell us about yourself, what you do and what you have done in your professional career
A: I am a humanitarian, a husband and a father - not necessarily in that order.
After my studies I followed love to the Canary Islands and learned Spanish, I ended up working at a European Services Center in Barcelona. Living there for three years, I enjoyed sun, beach and Spain, but found little joy nor satisfaction in the work. Looking to turn things around I applied for work with an International Non-governmental Organization (INGO). Acción Contra el Hambre gave me a first chance and put me on a plane to Iran following the Bam earthquake in 2004. Since then I have worked in multiple countries in the Caucasus, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia in a variety of positions with different INGOs and the UN.
More recently I returned to live in Spain to spend more time with my family, doing consultancy work from a distance or with short-term deployments.
Q: Any professional anecdotes?
A: There are actually quite a few anecdotes and events that occurred in the work environment. So, I will list some to give a sense of work as a humanitarian. Probably the most remarkable event for me personally was driving high up into the Sierra Nevada to meet the Arhuacos, a highly secluded indigenous population, who were receiving livelihood support. According to their belief, all life forms originate from the Sierra Nevada, and they were unwilling to use new seed forms that were not present in their environment. Instead they had agreed to trade with other indigenous groups from other parts of the Sierra Nevada. Moreover, they had learned the language of indigenous groups in lower lying areas, who were more exposed to outside influence and were losing their cultural heritage. They asked the mothers, descendants of those indigenous groups, to send their children to live with them, so they could teach those children the culture and language of their forefathers….
Yet, I also recall driving through war-torn lands, where trees and flowers are growing through destroyed houses full of bullet holes. Being bombed in Gaza and sharing an ambulance with my dead colleague in Pakistan. Drinking whiskey from cans in Iran and homemade spirits in Georgia. Distributing fresh food to tens of thousands of households on a weekly basis, and hearing a mother tell me how her children would dance when they saw her come home with vegetables. Seeing community spirit, resilience and hope in places and people that have gone through immense pain.
I recall standing behind a famous CNN international reporter, going through the regular security protocol before being allowed to enter Gaza, right after the flotilla. Driving in bullet-proof vehicles, and getting home late at night to find the security guard asleep with an AK47 on his lap, tiptoeing passed him to avoid scaring him if he woke up. Yet, every time, it is the beauty and diversity of the people and their cultures that leave a lasting impression and enrich my life.
Q: What is it about your work that are you most proud of?
A: The idea (and the fact) that the work contributes to the well-being of others. HumanSurge, in particular, will improve the surge capacity of INGOs during emergencies, so that complete and qualified teams are on the ground to provide emergency relief to disaster-affected populations.
Q: Why utopic_US?
A: Initially, I was looking for a place from which I could work with a certain degree of flexibility. utopic_US offered that opportunity. Now, I also appreciate the work environment and, more importantly, I have teamed up with several fellow coworkers to work on HumanSurge!
Q: According to your experience, what is your opinion on coworking?
A: Great. Before, I was working in a shared office with an architect. A great space, but it lacked interesting interaction. I value the diversity, dynamics and creativity at utopic_US, as well as the Tuesday morning breakfast sessions (even if I forget to go sometimes…).
Q: Any upcoming projects or ideas?
HumanSurge is a unique platform that provides a professional service to international and professional NGOs in the field of humanitarian aid, specifically, emergency response.
The platform allows professionals to upload their profiles, partially standardized, according to the characteristics most frequently used by NGOs in recruitment. Professionals also indicate their temporal and geographical availability.
Thus the platform allows professionals to define their profile and indicate their availability to the sector on one site, significantly increasing their chances of being hired. On the other hand, the platform allows NGOs to easily search for candidates worldwide, in situations where there is no time to advertise posts and there is a shortage of qualified professionals with immediate availability.
Q: Why humanitarian aid?
A: The fact that the work adds value to the well-being of other individuals, not to the stock-value of some company, gives a degree of personal satisfaction and motivation to continue the work.