Ya'axché Conservation Trust

Office staff

Ya'axché has a staff of 25 paid and volunteer members, including a team of 10 rangers from the local communities. Volunteers (indicated by an asterisk) at Ya'axché fill key positions in the organization. The organizational structure of Ya'axché can be seen illustrated in an organigram.
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Christina Garcia (Executive Director)
Her background lies in Natural Resource Management and Marine Biology. Christina has over 8 years working in the conservation efforts. Her experience in conservation issues is broad based, ranging from Marine Protected Areas Management, Program Management and Coordination, Alternative Income Generation Strategies and Scientific Monitoring of Marine Ecosystems.

Christina has been a part of the Southern Environmental Association (SEA), where she served as Marine Biologist and further Education & Outreach Director. She gained years of experience working with, TASTE and FoN who later became SEA. Her professional activities have focused on conservation as well as the promotion of public awareness and understanding of the valuable role marine ecosystems play. She has worked closely with local communities and has been involved in several training programs and exchange programs. She hopes to further engage community members in more activities and empower them to become more conscious about the wellbeing of our natural resources.

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Gustavo Requena (Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program Director)
Gustavo is a farmer from San Pedro Columbia who has also been a Biology professor at Julian Cho Technical High School for the past 15 years. He graduated from Toledo Community College and then enrolled at the Belize College of Agriculture at Central Farm, University of Belize from where he received an Associate Degree with specialization in agroforestry systems. He then went on to attend the University of Belize from where he received a Bachelor Degree in Biology Education.

Gustavo spends a lot of time on his organic farm producing crops and rearing animals; and providing tours. He is passionate about resources conservation and the improvement of people's livelihoods. As Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program Director, Gustavo is responsible for ensuring that communities are empowered.

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Karla Gabriela Hernández-Aguilar (Protected Areas Program Director)
Since 2009, Karla has been focusing her career on connecting people and nature through realistic initiatives that promote the relationship between conservation and management of target species, the socio-political aspects affecting decision making and environmental policies and enforcement within protected areas. After receiving her Bachelor's Degree in Biology, from National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico, Karla received a MSc in Conservation Leadership from Colorado State University (CSU) and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR).

Her previous experience working as an Environmental Brigade Leader, Research Project Manager, Environmental Columnist, Facilitator of Community Training Workshops, and Planning and Liaison Coordinator allowed her to build strong relationships with representatives from the government, academia and NGO´s in Mexico and United States.

As the Protected Areas Program Director, Karla is responsible for ensuring that the Protected Areas Management Program runs effectively and efficiently and to the highest standards.

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Ivanny Oliva (Finance Director)
Ivanny maintains Ya'axché's project finance system. She liaises, communicates, and collaborates with funders. She has an associates degree in Accounting and Economics from Corozal Junior College and two bachelor’s degrees, the first in Accounting and the second in Business Management/Administration, both from the University of the Ozarks, USA.

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Said Gutierrez (Science Director)
Starting with a BSc. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Belize and an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity from the University of Exeter in the UK, Said’s education has lead him to pursue a research based career with major interests in wildlife behavior, spatial ecology, landscape conservation and corridor connectivity. Previous experience with the Belize Audubon Society means he is well aware of the issues surrounding conservation and management of protected areas in Belize. He earned valuable analytical experience in research as wildlife biologist at the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize through a corridor project in central Belize. Said joins Ya’axché as the Assistant Research Coordinator. He manages a Global Trees Campaign project focusing on building capacity for conservation of threatened tree species in Belize. He also works together with the research coordinator to gather and analyse data collected from long term biodiversity monitoring within Ya’axché’s managed protected areas.

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Roberta Kamille Pennell (Operations Director)
Kamille firmly believes that learning never stops. Therefore, she has been learning and participating in the conservation sector for about 5 years. After completing her Bachelor's Degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Belize, Kamille returned to her home town of Punta Gorda in search of a nurturing workplace to help her achieve her goal of contributing to her home. She eventually found that place to be Ya'axché and has been working there since 2012.

She started at Ya'axché as a Development Officer Intern, sponsored by the Conservation Leadership Programme. After 6 months of internship, Kamille was hired as the organization's first Belizean Development Officer and was subsequently promoted to Development Director. As the Development Director, she was responsible to lead the fundraising drive of the organization to ensure the needs of the organization and its programs were met. Three valuable years at Ya'axche allowed her to gain great insight into the operations of a thriving NGO and, after 3 years in Development, Kamille is now transitioning into a new role of Operations Director. In this new post, she is responsible for the oversight of the Ya’axché’s internal operations including donor reporting, human resource and finance functions. Kamille is looking forward to contributing to the growth and development of the organization, as well as contributing to the effective management of the natural resources within Ya'axché focal area, the Maya Golden Landscape.

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Raquel Chun (Program Support Manager)
Raquel is a native of Roaring Creek Village, Cayo and has roots in Southern Belize. She is a graduate of University of Belize with an Associates degree in Marine Science and a BSc degree in Natural Resource Management. In 2015, she completed her Masters degree in Wildlife Health and Population Management at the University of Sydney, Australia. Raquel's interests lie in studying wildlife behaviour, researching Belize's game species, learning about landscape connectivity, sustainable livelihoods and utilizing GIS in conservation management.

During her tenure as a library assistant at the University of Belize, Raquel was able to help students build their research skills while simultaneously improving her own knowledge with the available literature. She has also served as a research assistant and consultant at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre writing on several important sectors including the water sector and coastal zone of select Caribbean countries. She has now taken on the Program Support Manager position at Ya'axché and looks forward to helping the team strengthen Ya'axché's conservation and community outreach work.

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Angelia Lane* (Development Manager)
Angelia has almost 10 years of experience in environmental education and research. While earning her BS in Fisheries and Wildlife Management at Michigan State University, she volunteered on the electoral board of two student organizations and gained critical experience in fundraising, leadership, and group management. In 2010, she had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica and learn more about tropical ecology, conservation, and various scales of agriculture. This visit sparked her interest in tropical agriculture, and in 2014 she began a MS in Conservation Leadership at Colorado State University with a thesis project focused on perceived barriers of adopting agroforestry in southern Belize. She partnered with Ya’axche on this project. She enjoyed the work of the organization so much that after the 6 months for her project was up, she decided to stay for an additional 6 months as an education and outreach officer. She focused on developing climate change lesson plans and creating a way to monitor and evaluate the efforts of the community outreach and livelihoods department.

Now she is switching gears and assisting Ya’axché with fundraising, grant writing, and donor relations as a development manager. During her free time she enjoys long ventures through cacao agroforestry farms, making tortillas, and taking her pet bunny for walks.

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Stephanie Smith* (Sustainable Land Use Manager)
After receiving a BA in Environmental Studies from Baylor University, Stephanie completed a dual-degree Conservation Leadership masters program at Colorado State University and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur. Her thesis research focused on exploring ecotourism as a means of sustainable income for a rural community in order to improve the management plan for their communal land. The study involved examining characteristics present in the community, speaking to other communities in the area that had started ecotourism ventures, and initiating a network of communication and support between communities, government agencies, and NGOs.

As Sustainable Land Use Manager, Stephanie seeks to connect all parts of the organization and understand the context in which the organization works. In order to accomplish these objectives, she interacts with and provides support to members of all programs in the organization, as well as community members.

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Julio Chub (Community Liaison/Education & Outreach Manager)
Julio has seven years working experience in community outreach and environmental education at Ya'axché. He is responsible for developing and implementing environmental education programs, communicating Ya'axché's work to communities, providing technical assistance to farmers and conducting socio-economic assessments in the Maya Golden Landscape.

Episode 1 of our Meet the Staff videos features Julio: check it out at Vimeo.

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Maximiliano Caal (Marketing & Communications Manager)
Max began his conservation career in 2009 at Ya’axché, as Ya’axché's first Belizean volunteer. Max has an associates degree in Natural Resources Management from the University of Belize. Max along with Devina Bol, Octavio Cal, Anignazio Makin and Abelino Zunigo implemented a Conservation Leadership Programme project within the Golden Stream watershed, from June 2011 to June 2012. The CLP project looked at land use types within the watershed and tested macro-invertebrates as indicators of stream conditions, a tool developed for Belize by Dr. Rachael Carrie.

Max is responsible for ensuring effective and consistent communication of Ya’axché’s vision, mission and associated activities to all stakeholders. Max is also leading the development and implementation of a sustainable financing arm of Ya'axché which includes EcoTourism Belize, which provides ecotours and rustic accommodations in southern Belize, among other activities.

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Herminio Sho (Agroforestry Extension Manager)
Herminio began his professional career working for Sustainable Harvest International (SHI). During his time working for SHI he helped the organization train farmers in organic and sustainable farming practices while promoting conservation. His passion for sustainable agriculture practices went beyond the work place in 2011, when he was invited to participate in an international exchange to the USA as a climate change fellow. He shared his knowledge on the benefits of different farming techniques such as organic gardening and sustainable land use practices. In 2013, he transitioned to an extension officer for Maya Mountain Cacao. This gave him the opportunity to work more with farmers interested in adopting cacao farming and gain knowledge and skills from the well established farmers throughout Toledo. In 2014, he received a Greenovators Award in Costa Rica through the Interamerica Development Bank. Now he is using his wealth of knowledge and experience to help Ya'axché promote cacao-based agroforestry and other sustainable farming practices as an extension coordinator.

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Eugenio Ah (Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator)
Eugenio is from San Antonio village, Toledo District. His childhood days in the forests solidified his passion for nature and the resources livelihoods are dependent on. He vividly recalls huge birds, such as the Great Curassow, he encountered on the road. He believes that natural resources, such as soil, water and forests, are not to be taken for granted. He has worked in conservation for 25 years at middle level management. Realizing his passion for soil, he established a cacao-based agroforestry farm, Witzil Hí which provides income and food for his family.

As Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, Eugenio shares his experiences and knowledge to farmers within the Maya Golden Landscape.

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Isidoro Sho (Agroforestry Extension Officer)
Isidoro is from the community of Blue Creek village. He has worked as Head Ranger for the Aguacaliente Wildlife Sanctuary in 2000 & 2001. in 2005 he worked at Tumul Kin Center of Learning as an Extension Officer whereby he provided training in beekeeping. He also a teacher at the institution providing practical lessons lessons to students. In 2012, he became a licensed tour guide at Pook Hill Resort.

Isidoro joined Ya'axché in 2014 as Agroforestry Extension Officer. He is responsible for providing technical field support and trainings to bee-keepers, cacao farmers and gardeners.

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Elizabeth Dorgay* (Botanical Research Project Manager)
Beth received a BSc in Biology from Purdue University in 2010. She began her conservation career with The Nature Conservancy in Indiana, which eventually led her to pursue a MSc in Conservation Ecology from the University of Michigan in 2016. For her thesis, she worked with the NGO Paso Pacifico to examine the social and ecological dimensions of living fencerows as a reforestation strategy in southwestern Nicaragua.

As the Botanical Research Project Manager, Beth oversees botanical research and monitoring, primarily relating to a Global Trees Campaign project involving research and advocacy to improve the conservation status of rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii).

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Dianne Gomez (Administrative Assistant)
Dianne’s educational background intertwines as a business major with an Associate’s degree in Business Science and a Bachelor’s degree of Science in Management, which she obtained at the University of Belize.

Dianne joined Ya'axché in February, 2014. She sustains the office’s administrative responsibilities as well as directly assisting the Finance Manager on a daily basis.

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Ben Fletcher* (Protected Area Program Assistant)
Ben attained a BA in Geography and International Development from the University of Chester in 2014. Having previously worked on projects in Kenya and Spain, Ben spent the past 18 months working for a local government council near London using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and managing quantitative data. These experiences have led him to develop a keen interest in the role of spatial technology and information as tools for environmental protection.

As Protected Areas Program Assistant, Ben will be working closely with the Ranger Team at Ya’axché to implement SMART, a tool used for patrol data collection and reporting. His main responsibilities will be to provide guidance to the Ranger Team with SMART and address efficiency gaps to ensure operational excellence for the Protected Areas Management (PAM) Program. Additionally, he will be assisting in the implementation of the Research Program targeting monitoring of keystone species.

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Caitlin Furio* (GIS Officer)
Caitlin received a BA in Mathematics and Human Geography from Boston University in 2014. After an internship with the New York City Planning Department, she worked as a Research Analyst at an economics and policy consulting firm in Philadelphia for almost two years. In that role she developed expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data management, statistical analysis, and qualitative and quantitative research. Her desire to apply these skills to mission-driven work and sustainable development brought her to Ya’axché.

As GIS Officer, Caitlin will be using spatial data to measure and visualize the impacts that Ya’axché has and can have on the Maya Golden Landscape. Her work will improve efficiency, communication, and understanding within both the Protected Area Management and Community Outreach & Livelihoods programs. She will perform the analysis for the ongoing Land Use/Land Cover Change monitoring of the Maya Golden Landscape, which helps Ya’axché locate priority areas for the promotion of sustainable land use and targeted Protected Area Management intervention.

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Miguel Coc (Nursery Technician)
Miguel is from Indian Creek and has worked as a landscaper at a lodge for seven years prior to working at Ya'axché. As Nursery Technician, Miguel ensures that the tree nursery is always stocked with some +35,000 plants and keeps monitoring them. He also does grafting of cacao and fruit trees at the nursery.