“A person can give back financially or they can do it by donating their time. In actual fact, sometimes the biggest donation is time since everyone’s time is limited and you never get it back, once it is gone, it is gone. But if it is donated to worthwhile causes, then it is time well spent.”
Tako Koning is a geologist whose career in petroleum exploration and oil industry management has taken him around the world. Born in the Netherlands and educated in Canada, Mr. Koning has worked in Canada, Indonesia, Nigeria and Angola. He and his wife Henriette are long term residents of Luanda, Angola, a crowded, congested city of 5.5 million inhabitants. He has also devoted decades of service to professional associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Canada, Nigeria and Angola as a board member and volunteer. From 2003 to 2012 he was Residential Representative on a volunteer basis for Norway’s Yme Foundation, which was drilling water wells in Angola’s northern province of Cabinda. He presently is Chairman of the Angola MosquitoNets Project, a malaria prevention program which raises money to buy mosquito nets, and he and his wife have just personally donated $15,000 to Africare/Angola’s malaria programs. In addition to the international awards that Mr. Koning’s volunteer activities have garnered, the Konings graciously allowed us to feature them as a Donor Spotlight. We connected with the Konings recently to learn more about their commitment to “giving back” wherever they reside.
What generally motivates you to volunteer with NGOs and community development projects?
Over the years, my wife and I have always been involved in a variety of volunteer activities. It started over 30 years ago when we both got involved with a women’s shelter in Calgary, Canada that was founded by the church we were members of. My wife Henriette wrote their newsletters, and I was on the shelter’s board of directors as Fund Raising Chairman. So we have done a lot of this type of activity over the years. This is in part due to our desire to really get involved in the communities where we have lived and at the same time to “give back.”
A person can give back financially or they can do it by donating their time. In actual fact, sometimes the biggest donation is time since everyone’s time is limited and you never get it back, once it is gone, it is gone. But if it is donated to worthwhile causes, then it is time well spent.
Are there motivating principles as to why you live, work and support causes in Africa?
Between Nigeria and Angola, we have now lived in Africa for 20 years. Despite all of the problems that exist in Africa, it is an exciting continent to live in with such a variety of landscapes, history and cultures. Angola is especially interesting since the country suffered immensely from the horrible 27 year civil war. Conditions are now improving, there are more jobs, more schools and universities opening up, but there is still much poverty and inequality. So for people like us who want to help, we feel we make more of a difference in Africa than in Canada or the USA where there are more institutions available to help all strata of society.
Why did you choose to support Africare specifically?
I chose to support Africare due to knowing some of the people with Africare/Angola and also because I met many good people with Africare when I attended the Africare Country Directors conference in Washington, D.C. last April. I needed to be in Canada at that time to visit our family so at the same time I volunteered to travel to Washington and give a presentation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)/Social Investment to Africare. This was done to share my knowledge of CSR which I obtained working for Texaco Inc and Tullow Oil.
When and how did you first learn of Africare?
I first learned about Africare when in 2010 I met Christian Isely who was Africare/Angola’s Country Director. The Angola MosquitoNets Project which I was running collaborated with Africare/Angola on a nets distribution program in the interior which went very well. I also volunteered with Africare/Angola in its regularly scheduled polio vaccination programs, an innovative program which Christian started which involved volunteers going into the bairros to vaccinate children against polio. I also knew Erna van Goor, current Africare/Angola country director from previous years when she was the country director for Handicap International, Oxfam and Medicos Sans Frontiers. Like us, she is a long term resident of Angola and knows the situation very well. Another person I know well with Africare/Angola is Joao Goncalves, a young Angolan who is a personal friend; he is Africare/Angola’s Director of Operations Support. I worked with him when I was a consultant to Tullow Oil in Luanda, and I know he is a dedicated and hard working employee. Accordingly, having observed Africare/Angola’s programs and knowing some of its key employees, I wanted to make a donation to Africare/Angola.
You recently made a sizeable donation of $15,000 to Africare/Angola’s malaria programs. Is there a reason why you wanted to specifically support this intervention?
I choose the malaria program because malaria is pervasive in Angola. People often think that HIV & AIDS is the biggest killer in Angola, but it is not – it is malaria. Interestingly enough, the second biggest killer in Angola is car accidents, so maybe Africare/Angola may want to help the government to develop some kind of a driver’s education program.
Do you plan to continue volunteering into the future?
Yes, definitely I plan to keep volunteering in the future. I am 63 years old and have no plans to retire. I read somewhere that the fastest way to grow old is to retire. For many years, I have been on the boards of two professional societies here in Luanda, one is an engineering society and the other a geological society. Through these groups I have been involved with giving presentations at various conferences in Luanda and also to students at the universities. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing that. One of the first things that I tell the university students is that I have over 40 years of experience in the oil industry, and as soon as I say that I can hear them whispering to each other “Wow, that guy has been working for 40 years, is he ever old!” But they respect me for volunteering and standing in front of them and teaching them about geology, geophysics, petroleum economics and global geopolitics.
You have Africare’s respect too, for volunteering and for continually acting on your principles. We would like to say thanks so much for your support, and don’t retire!