Meet the Team

Claus Kjaerby, Director of Operations (COO)

Claus settled in Latin America, in 1997, starting with a six-year stint in the Amazon engaging indigenous people in environmental monitoring, sustainable economic development, including ecotourism; and establishing innovative protected areas management regimes. Some of Latin America’s most renowned lawyers then trained him in legal matters and human rights based development strategies. Claus managed, for seven years, intercultural governance and poverty eradication programs in Central America, served as director to a World Bank infrastructure project and managed a land titling process in culturally complex territories in collaboration with national environment authorities. He spent two years as a consultant evaluating natural resource management programs and most recently he was the regional representative of the environment organization, Forests of the World. Before Google Earth existed, Claus was conducting expeditions to the Earth’s most remote and indigenous territories. He co-owned the Danish travel agency “Seven C’s Adventure Group” which financed his studies and was eventually sold after five years.

Education: Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor / MSc International Development Studies from Aalborg University and Roskilde University, Denmark.

Atala Beckford, National Director of Public Relations

Atala joined the team in the early Earth Train days as the Director of Administration. She came from an international law rm established in Panama. In addition to applying her skills in management, budgeting, logistics business planning, and systems design, she has been serving as a counselor and coach to interns. She speaks fluent in both Spanish and English. She is the founder of Geoversity’s Youth Innovating for Biodiversity and Ecology program (JIBE), the author of an environmental education and coloring book for children, and has organized two environmental theater plays.

Educational background: Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Universidad Americana and a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources Management

Mark Arie Knetsch, Manager of Life Changer Leadership Programs

Mark first arrived to Mamoní in 2013 and volunteered to the cause of leadership training and conservation. Since then, he has been leading local and international student groups of all ages throughout the Mamoní Valley and parts of Panama, and has developed a deep knowledge of the local biodiversity and culture. He is the co-founder and CEO of Experience Mamoní. He is trained in emergency response and jungle survival, and while living in Canada, he specialized in landscape construction and heavy machinery operation. He is a true waterman, having been raised in Aruba, and also speaks four languages: English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento, which has helped Mark with supporting Geoversity in program development and management. When Mark has the time for it, he keeps exploring the Americas and Asia.

Educational background: Extended Accounting Degree from Fanshawe College and BA in Business Administration from Laurentian University Canada, where he graduated Cum Laude. Certified Wilderness Guide from PAWGI.

Anna Gili, Manager of Life Changer Research Programs

Anna arrived to Fundación Earth Train, Geoversity’s predecessor in 2013 as a volunteer during Jane Goodall’s initial collaboration with our leadership and training cause. Four years later she returned to Panama, after receiving her Wilderness Guide Certificate, to serve until recently as Experience Mamoní’s Business Development and Program Coordinator. Her role has been crucial in organizing and leading our educational programs, along with the creation of a strategy to market those through our web and social media channels. Anna is originally from Barcelona, but also lived and studied in England, which makes her the perfect bilingual research facilitator and expedition guide. Anna is a diver who loves dancing and is passionate about animals.

Educational background: MSc. in Natural Resource Management, Postgraduate in International Cooperation and Development, studied Biology at Barcelona University and Agronomy Engineering at the Polytechnic University; certified animal trainer from Canine Unit Instruction and Certified Wilderness Guide with the International Wilderness Academy.

Nico Armstrong, Centro Mamoní Manager

Nico arrived to Bocas del Toro, Panama in 2006 as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he worked primarily with indigenous Ngäbe people promoting sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, with an emphasis on increasing cacao production in local plantations. After completing his service he moved on to become a tour guide and operator in the high-lands of Chiriquí province, specializing in treks, agrotourism and indigenous cultural experiences with his Ngäbe friends. Nico has now seven years of hosting and management experience, including at our Centro Mamoní facilities in the Mamoní Valley Preserve. His programmatic involvement also includes agriculture and community relations. In his spare time he loves to go on “waterfall quests” — in search for beautiful, undiscovered falls.

Educational background: Certified Wilderness Guide from PAWGI, BA in International Studies and Hispanic Studies from Washington College.

Esmeralda Stonestreet, Coordinator of Culinary and Hospitality

Esmeralda is the Director of Culinary and Hospitality at Geoversity Foundation’s main campus in Panama. Esmeralda prioritizes the importance of health and searches for the nutrition that will make people vibrant and healthy during their stay. She specializes in the culinary experiences that will expand visitors pallets’ to the varieties of food that are available within the rainforest. She has a passion for sharing her extensive knowledge and appreciation of the rainforest with visitors. In her words, “What you have is gold if you pay attention”. In her spare time, you can find her experimenting with natural remedies, medicine, and products. Esmeralda is also a mother to three beautiful children.

BA in Accounting with a Minor in English.

Kandi Valle, Director of Audiovisual Productions

Kandi, from Bilbao, Spain, is a certified wilderness guide and an experienced IT technician with a talent for outdoor action videography. Starting in 2008, he has worked in the international voluntary service sector. Following work in Africa and Asia, he joined our mission in 2011 to assist in the production of the Roots & Shoots conference with Jane Goodall. In 2013, he became our social videographer and filmmaker. For two simultaneous years, Kandi also served as a Production Coordinator at Fundación Albatros Media in Panama, documenting numerous conser-vation initiatives. He has been directing, shooting, and editing most of the videos related to Geoversity and the Mamoní Valley Preserve. Besides, he is a long distance runner and a biker.

Educational background: Certified Wilderness Guide from PAWGI and Vocational Training in IT.

Rolando Murgas, Strategic Planning Manager

Rolando’s background and skills are thoroughly multidisciplinary. His experience includes working with law firms, nonprofits, businesses, and local government, ranging from legal advice to qualitative research. In 2016, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for graduate studies in Washington, DC, where he worked for the DOEE and consulted for local nonprofits. He later joined UNLEASH, a community of young leaders tackling global issues, as the first and only Panamanian at the time. Since 2018, he contributes his interdisciplinary training and experiences to advance Geoversity’s mission at Mamoní. Rolando speaks three languages and is a certified interpreter. He is also a bassist and an avid boulderer.

Educational background: M.A. in Environmental Policy from GWU; Master of Environmental Management from UIP; Bachelor of Laws from UP.

Carlos Andrés Gonzáles, Director of Legal Affairs

Carlos Andrés has been our lawyer since 2008 working on our projects in the Mamoní Valley and with our partnering Mamoní 100 Membership Club, as well as other for profit and not-for-profit partners operating in the Valley. He also participates in land transactions for long lasting not-for-profit management, develops sustainable legal strategies around land ownership and conservation easements in general, and supports our community development and sustainable livelihood initiatives.

Educational background: Bachelor of Law and Political Science from Universidad Americana and Master in Business Administration with an emphasis on strategic management from Universidad Interamericana de Panamá.

Delia Cedeño, Financial Manager

Delia is a Panamanian with over 18 years of experience running her own financial management company. She is the staff in our organization with the longest history and has been in charge of our finances since 2007.

Educational background: Certified Public Accountant, Panama.

Marlene Hernández, Administrative Assistant

Marlene has 5 years of experience in the banking and finance industry, as an operations analyst. In her free time she loves exploring forested areas that connect her with the harmony of mother earth, and harvesting on the family farm, which is dedicated to agriculture. She enrolled in the world of youth scout movement back in 2003, doing activities that integrate young people in areas of social risk. She is currently studying topography and geodesy at the University of Panama.

Rodolfo Pereira, Accountant

Rodolfo is a Certified Public Accountant. He is currently studying for a Specialization in Taxation and a Master’s Degree in Tax Management at the Specialized University of the Authorized Public Accountant (UNESCPA). He began his work experience as an accounting assistant in several companies. He joined Geoversity in 2019 as an external accountant. Since 2018, he has been in charge of the accounting department at Cevaxin. And additionally he brings external accounting to natural and legal clients.

Educational Background: Graduated from the Interamerican University of Panama (UIP) in 2018 with a degree in Accounting.

Leandro Toribio, MVP Local Guide and Handyman

Gabriel Salazar, MVP Local Guide and Handyman

Gabriel Salazar has lived his entire adult life on location and served as our local wilderness guide from the birth of the Mamoní Valley Preserve. He is a true horseman, born animal tracker and navigates the forest without use of modern technology. In his youth Gabriel was once a prolific hunter trained by Noriega’s military forces in the Mamoní Valley, but he has since been able to create a sustainable livelihood for himself with Geoversity. He also runs a quaint but efficient and beautiful integrated farm system.

Virgilio Salazar, MVP Handyman

Merlis Carillo, MVP Handyman

Humberto Valdez, MVP Handyman

Javier Yañez, MVP Handyman

Abdiel Gallardo, MVP Handyman

Ariel Batista, MVP Handyman

Jessica Ausinheiler, EUROCLIMA+ Mamoní Valley Coordinator

Jessica is a Peruvian-American who started her career studying grassroots organizing in the West Bank and spent the last decade with the Monitor Institute by Deloitte influencing donors—while developing her skills in multi-stakeholder engagement and facilitation, strategy and operations, and evaluation and learning. After birthing two children, she decided to shift her personal love of the outdoors into professional commitment to work at the intersection of social justice philanthropy, sustainable conservation, and environmental youth leadership. Jessica is humbled to say that she graduated from Princeton University and the Harvard Kennedy School. She also knows that this doesn’t entitle her to anything and is ready to earn her keep.

Heraclio López Hernández (Surub), Consultant EUROCLIMA+

Heraclio is Guna and a specialist in indigenous peoples issues, human rights, international cooperation and collective land titling processes. He is working with Geoversity as community facilitator in our EUROCLIMA+ project related to non carbon benefits and Global Climate Change processes, in the Mamoní Valley and emberá communities.

Educational background: Degree in philosophy from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana de Medellín, Colombia and Postgraduate in Conflict Mediation.

Adolfo Mezua, Consultant and Administrator EUROCLIMA+

Adolfo is Emberá and has more than 19 years of experience working with administrative and financial management of projects financed by international cooperation agencies. He is an Independent Consultant on issues related to indigenous peoples and rural communities, in social, economic, cultural and tourist aspects. Likewise, he has experience training human resources, business start ups. Adolfo is the financial administrator of the EUROCLIMA+ project.

Educational background: Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Human Resources.