Matt van Geest '97
Describe your path since graduation.
During my time at Calvin, I did an internship at the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) office in Grand Rapids. After graduating, I worked there for almost a year and also did a short-term consulting assignment for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore. After getting married to my wife Esther, we moved to Ottawa where I completed a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a specialization in Development Studies. Shortly after that, we accepted a Service and Training assignment with CRWRC in Senegal, West Africa. For a year, we worked on an HIV/AIDS Peer Education program. After returning to Canada, I took up a position as the Program/Grants Officer at the Canadian headquarters of CRWRC. My main role there was facilitating the funding relationship with CIDA, the Canadian government’s international development agency. There I had a lot of opportunity to travel and grow in my knowledge and understanding of development. In 2004, we left Canada and accepted a three year contract with MCC, the Mennonite Central Committee. We spent three years working in an integrated reforestation and environmental education program. After three very enjoyable years living in the Artibonite Valley, we decided to move to Port au Prince where, for the past two years, I have been working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
What are your current activities?
My current job at IOM is focused on program support for a large USAID-funded stabilization program. IOM is a huge inter-governmental organization based in Geneva and is closely affiliated with the United Nations. The program I am working on is essentially public infrastructure rehabilitation whereby we work closely with the Haitian government and local community groups to identify and implement small public infrastructure improvement projects. This includes schools, roads, bridges, canals, parks, markets, irrigation systems, water systems, etc.
What's your official position where you are working now?
I am the Program Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Port au Prince Haiti (http:///www.iomhaiti.org)
How does your faith influence your work?
My faith plays a central role in my current work and my choice of careers. I really feel that I am responding to a call from God to care for the world and try to make it just a little bit better. I have had the opportunity to work for faith-based organizations as well as non-faith based organizations and each plays an equally important role in responding to that call.
What is your favorite aspect of Calvin and what do you wish you would have done differently while attending Calvin?
My favorite aspect of my experience at Calvin was the opportunity to spend both an interim (Belize) and semester (Honduras) abroad. I was part of the first groups of students to do the Honduras semester and it was an incredible learning experience for me and really helped set me on the path to where I am today. There is not much I wish I had done differently at Calvin but I DO wish that the IDS program, which was really only just starting when I was there, had been further developed.
What is your best advice for current IDS students?
I would suggest all IDS students spend as much time abroad as possible, immersing themselves in the positive and negative aspects of living cross culturally. Definitely do a semester abroad, if not two. Even if you end up working in North America for programs that are doing projects abroad, having “field” experience will really shape how you do your work. Take short-term assignments, volunteer, travel and experience as much as you can!
Words of Hope and Wisdom for IDS graduates.
I remember thinking that when I was getting ready to graduate and thinking about a career I needed to have it all “figured out.” I have learned quickly that we have long lives before us and there are so many opportunities to explore. Don’t feel like you need to know what you want to do. Follow your passions first.