PERSONAL STORY 2
Niko Winkel is the director of the NGO Meet Africa. Meet Africa makes it possible to do sustainable volunteering and internships with local people in Africa. COVID-19 also has a major impact on Niko's business. This is his story:
Around March 10, everyone was advised to come back to the Netherlands and not to leave the Netherlands. From that moment on, Niko started working to stimulate five volunteers and interns to come back to the Netherlands. At first, the volunteers did not feel an immediate need to go home, but this soon changed as the reporting became more intense. Yet there were two volunteers who did not want to go but they changed their minds when the president of Malawi said on television that 'Corona comes from the white people'. From that moment on they didn't feel safe on the street anymore and were shouted after. It was not easy for them to come home because of the organization, expensive flights and multiple stops. Once they got there, they sought contact with Niko regarding a largely unacquired service from Meet Africa and its partners in Africa.
As much as it is rightly stated in Niko's terms and conditions that he cannot insure himself against such things (as a corona crisis) and that the insurance of the participant (volunteer/traineeship) must be addressed, he has gone ahead and made settlement proposals. These were generally accepted, but this still brought some frustration for him, which is understandable. The relationship he had with his participants suddenly became 'businesslike' as a result. It felt very unpleasant for him to have to tell his own participants (in addition to everything they were told during the extensive preparation training of Meet Africa) that it is unfeasible and unrealistic for him to let his African partners pay back their fees. That simply cannot be done. They get their fee in advance and of course they have already, for example, bought that refrigerator that was needed. So, for Niko, who is incredibly helpful, understanding and very involved with his volunteers and interns of Meet Africa, the situation brought this difficult matter.
Luckily for Meet Africa, as an organization he is relatively 'safe'. His African partners are not financially dependent on Meet Africa. His partners are very happy when he sends people, but it is a 'bonus'. Their own organization is not based on the contribution, both in terms of commitment and financial contribution, of his volunteers or trainees. However, his organization Meet Africa does not have any income at the moment. Fortunately, Meet Africa also has hardly any financial burdens; namely no office rent and no staff. That also makes it a lot 'easier' for him than for many other volunteer sending organizations.
Niko has a lot of contact with various partners in Africa. He indicates that they are all severely affected by the virus, especially as a result of the lockdown, and that this applies to both their private lives and their organizations. Various partners are trying to set up funding actions. Through Niko's board participation in the Volunteer Correct Association, he also has some insight into how other volunteer sending organizations are doing. In that perspective he is very happy with his 'smallness', his autonomy and his independence. These are consequences of his strict view on sustainability. Because of this, he really has much less 'damage' than other large organizations that have much more misery at the moment. Niko will have to wait and see when and how things can and may start up again (Winkel, 2020).
Want to know more about the beautiful organization Meet Africa? Visit: https://www.ontmoetafrika.nl/
Winkel, N. (2020, March). Impact COVID-19 on Meet Africa. (A. Engberink, E. Gnodde, & W. Wonder, Interviewers)