Meet the team
Dorien is founder and Executive Director of Young Africa.
Dorien came to Kenya in 1995 as a volunteer from The Netherlands. She worked 4 months with kids from the streets at the Don Bosco project in Nairobi. Less than a year later she was in Don Bosco Boys Town to open a computer training centre for the girls. She grew more and more passionate in her love for Africa and for youth development. Along with Raj she worked out the blue print of Young Africa and duly registered it in The Netherlands in 1998. Together, in that same year, they moved to Zimbabwe to start YA’s first programmes and that’s how Young Africa took off. Dorien and Raj built up the organisation, plus the training centres in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Dorien developed YA’s life skills education programme and, after ten years of teaching it, wrote down the methodology. Her strengths lie in project design, capacity building, programme management and public relations. She is the brain behind Young Africa’s scaling strategy and responsible for the expansion plans. All to achieve having trained half a million young people in skills for employability and entrepreneurship by 2025.
Dorien was selected to be a fellow of Ashoka, the world’s biggest network of social entrepreneurs, in 2012 in recognition of Young Africa ‘s integral approach to youth development and for the self-sustainable franchise model.
Dorien is now based at YA International - HUB. Click here to visit the HUB.
Raj is founder and Executive Director of Young Africa.
Raj has been working with underprivileged young people for the largest part of his life in India and Africa. He cannot imagine himself doing any other work. He grew up with the Don Bosco priests, who inspired him with their work. Even though leaving the order many years ago, his work still bears the marks of their philosophy. Raj believes that youngsters, especially in Africa where they make up such a large part of the population, should be directed toward opportunities. But while young people are the main focus of Young Africa, Raj also stresses the importance of the franchise model and the aim of self-sustainability, because true development is achieved only when people take responsibility for themselves. By inspiring people and influencing authorities through our example, Young Africa can have an impact that reaches far beyond its centres’ gates.
Raj has been the force behind building up the YA centres. He is the visionary of the innovative franchise model. He is a great teacher and source of inspiration for many. He holds degrees in philosophy, theology, English literature and film & television production.
Raj is now based at YA International - HUB. Click here to visit the HUB.
Susan joined the team in 2010. She holds a Diploma in NGO Management and Administration & Certificate in Development Education. She is a certified Entrepreneurship and Life Skills trainer. Susan says, “Being part of the Young Africa family is a transforming experience. I love the holistic approach because it touches on all facets of a young person’s life; their talent, skills and personality.”
Aksana Varela, Director, YA Mozambique
Aksana joined the YA team in 2008 as administrator and has been in the role of Director since 2011. She has a Degree in Economics at the University of Beira, after which she gained’ experience at other organisations in the finances. Aksana is a compassionate and energetic leader and the first YA director to achieve 100% self-sustainability of the training centre. Aksana says, “There are many things I love about my work at YA. But especially changing the lives of the young people. I love to work with young people and Young Africa is an excellent organisation to work for.”
Click here to visit YA Mozambique.
Yvette Bellens-Bosma is Director of Young Africa Nambia.
Yvette joined the Young Africa family in Zimbabwe as project coordinator and capacity builder in 2006. With a background in Development and Environment, Yvette has worked over 15 years as a consultant in environmental education and communication for NGOs in the Netherlands and internationally. At Young Africa, she plays a major role in fundraising and setting up the projects, overseeing quality of training and integral development of students, capacity building of staff and franchisees, and organisational development. Yvette says, "Young Africa truly empowers young people. The skills training centres buzz with energy from entrepreneurs dedicated to pass on their skills and from youngsters eager to learn new skills. Knowing the students' background and seeing how they're doing now, living comfortable independent lives and raising families, fills me with joy and pride."
Click here to visit YA Namibia.
Dirk Bellens is founder & Director of Young Africa Namibia.
Dirk joined the Young Africa team in 2007 as capacity builder of YA Zimbabwe. He and his wife Yvette founded YA Namibia in 2011. Dirk has a background in environmental management and has worked for over 15 years as an environmental consultant for companies and local authorities. Dirk has a strong passion for green technologies and is an expert in solar. He explains, “It is a great privilege to be part of a team who is dedicated to giving young people the skills to develop themselves in such a way that they take the responsibility to change their life positively.”
Click here to visit YA Namibia.
Gonneke Campen, Director, YA Netherlands
Young Africa is more than only work for me, it is a part of my life. Founder and Executive Director Dorien Beurskens has been a good friend of mine more than 30 years. We grew up in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, and both studied at the University of Leiden. Together, we left for Kenya in 1995 to go volunteering at a street children’s' project of Don Bosco. For both of us this was a life changing experience. Dorien went back to Africa. I got married and had two daughters. When Young Africa was founded in 1998, I became a member of the Board. It began with a couple of hours per week of volunteering for the foundation. It grew to a 32 hour work week. I still find my inspiration and satisfaction to contribute to a better world. It is very special to be a part of the Young Africa family: it started with only ideals in 1998 and grew out to an international organisation with multiple training centres. Gonneke manages the team in The Netherlands and is responsible for fundraising and network building.
Click here to visit YA Netherlands.
Jelena Mitrovic & Maarten Weers, Directors YA Botswana
Jelena & Maarten ran NGOs Kunst in de Straat in Holland and Umetnost Ulice in Serbia. Both translate to ‘Art in the Street’. The work involves empowering people through art projects such as graffiti art and street mosaic installations in Rotterdam and street theatre to enable literacy in Serbia. While the work continues in both locations, Jelena & Maarten have joined Young Africa to start work in Botswana. Jelena elaborates: "We have approached empowerment through creativity. I do it because not only does it feel good but when we work with others and facilitate empowerment - it is inspiring me too." Maarten elaborates: "I cannot stand injustice. At the same time, we both are not aggressive activists or reformers. We have always involved everyone; working with all kinds of people to get the work done." In March 2016, Maarten & Jelena moved to Gaborone to fully dedicate their lives to build up Young Africa in Botswana.
Click here to visit YA Botswana.
Lindsay Cleary and Mark O'Dwyer, Directors Young Africa Zambia
Lindsay and Mark, both from Ireland, first heard about and became involved with Young Africa in 2010 when volunteering for the Irish charity SERVE. Both went on to study at Kimmage Development Studies Centre in Dublin and wholeheartedly believe in youth empowerment. Mark noted that what attracted him to Young Africa was that, by equipping young people with the skills of the hand, heart and mind to be successful in the labour market, it is a development organisation offering ‘the prevention rather than the cure’. In 2014 Lindsay assumed the position of SERVE’s long-term volunteer with Young Africa in Mozambique. Following on from this she moved to Zimbabwe and worked, with Mark, as a Monitoring and Evaluation officer in the Young Africa HUB. It was here where the first plans for Young Africa Zambia came about.
Click here to visit YA Zambia.