Staff Member Spotlight: Desiree Haakonsen

Title
Program Manager

Photos

Desireé studied at the University of Cape Town where she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Film and Media Production. Desiree brings her passion for travel, education, and service learning into her role as Program Manager for the EDU Africa's South Africa region.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Taking my family to experience the Kruger National Park for the first time. Aside from incredible wildlife sightings and beautiful natural landscapes, my children were immersed in new cultures on our service learning projects in the rural communities. It was wonderful to see them learn through travel.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I have always loved different cultures and have a real passion for helping others. Since working at EDU Africa, my understanding of people, service learning, and global citizenship has grown. I have a deeper appreciation for diversity, education, and what it means to have your life changed through experiential learning.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

It's not unusual to hear stories of students brought to tears by community interactions that have them grappling with issues of social justice, reconciliation, and underrepresentation. We have a number of students who return on an annual program with their school, and eventually as alumni. Many go back home and run campaigns to raise awareness and funds for our projects. Every so often, we have students who are deeply impacted by their experience in South Africa and ask how they can volunteer on a long term basis.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Tough question! I think possibly the Human-Wildlife Conflict Studies in Zimbabwe.

I have a passion for conservation, but I think that conservation can only really be effective by properly educating a community – which you first need to take the time to understand. There's lots of grey area to work through when you start unpacking the issues around human-wildlife conflict.

Zimbabwe is also very close to my heart as both my parents grew up here. Zimbabwe's wildlife reserves have some of the best game viewing, but because tourist numbers are still relatively low to many of them, you don't have the traffic that you'd find elsewhere. Also, I'm a bit of an adrenalin-junkie, so the Zambezi Valley fits right into that calling for adventure!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

EDU Africa really operates as a family. In fact, Family is one of our core values – along with Friendliness, Passion, and Courage. These aren't qualities that you find in any company.

We have an amazing team, from those of us in the office to our Program Facilitators on the ground taking care of each group. I couldn't wish for a better team to work with!

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

We value relationship and work hard to build strong relationships with everyone we work with. Having good relationships gives us an edge when it comes to being flexible, customizing programs, taking constructive criticism well, and offering a superior experience on the ground. We know that every student who travels with us will be well taken care of!