Staff and Board

Staff

Matthew Watherston 

Founder and Executive Director

Matthew Watherston travelled to the Amazon in the beginning of 2007 and saw how the impact of westernization and industrial development was destroying the traditions of the indigenous people and the environment across the Amazon at large. He founded Alianza Arkana partnering with indigenous people to support their efforts to preserve their environment, rights and traditions. Before coming to the Amazon, Matthew worked as operations director for a large property developer and real estate company in Spain. After a profound experience in the Amazon his life changed dramatically and his heart called him to leave behind his business career. He has built an organization that has brought together like minded people - from Peru and overseas - who are committed to finding solutions to the widespread environmental and social issues in the Peruvian Amazon.

Brian Best

Director of Community-based Solutions

Brian Robert Best is an anthropologist from the University of Nebraska, specializing in environmental issues. Brian first arrived to the Amazon in 2004 to carry out research in rural development. Since then, he has been working on researching and developing waste management programs geared to small Amazonian communities. In 2008, Brian led the execution of a pilot waste management program in the community of San Francisco. This pilot project has now expanded outover the last 5 years into 16 Shipibo communities across the Ucayli River and continues to grow. His goal is that all Shipibo communities in the future will live in a clean and healthy community with zero waste, sustainable farming practices and total self sufficiency.

Paul Roberts

Director of Intercultural Education

Paul Roberts has been involved in education all his life. His primary school education was reasonably enlightened but secondary school introduced him to the injustice of the English public school system, and left him with a lifelong desire to transform educational practices. He has a degree in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University, a Masters in Human Resource Development from South Bank University, London, and a Doctorate from the Center for Action Research at Bath University. He has been a social worker, a psychotherapist, an organizational development consultant and a university professor. He lived for seven years in Mexico, working as a Professor at the University of Guadalajara and Head of Department of Leadership Studies at the National Institute for Public Health. He first visited the Peruvian Amazon in January 2010 where he was amazed at both the richness and diversity of the natural environment and the extraordinary culture and cosmovision of the Shipibo people. In the summer of 2011, he moved to Pucallpa, Peru to be Director of Intercultural Education for Alianza Arkana.

Diego Villegas Kau 

Director of Agro-Social Forestry

Diego studied Forestry Science at Lima´s renowned La Molina National Agrarian University. He has lived in the Ucayali region since 2001, and in Pucallpa since 2007. He has been working with Alianza Arkana since 2013 as the Director of Agro-Social Forestry and his main role is overseeing the permaculture projects in the District of Yarinacocha. This involves visiting the project sites and maintaining a clear communication between our permaculture technicians, members of the communities where we work and the Alianza Arkana office. Diego assures active community participation at all stages of project design and implementation - an essential ingredient to success. He says,"The amount of information that people in the communities have is remarkable, if we really listen to them we can use this source of knowledge to discover solutions to different problems together. So I see our work at Alianza Arkana as helping to facilitate this process, and offering financial and technical support in order to enact local solutions."

Luke Smith

Director of Regenerative Design

Luke is a permaculture designer, ecologist and conservation biologist with a deep commitment to landscape regeneration, food sovereignty, grassroots engagement and environmental justice. He holds a B.Sc in Biology from the University of Sussex and an M.Sc in Conservation Science from University College London. He has been living in South America since 2009, when he conducted post-graduate research on the impact of bushmeat hunting upon rainforest regeneration in the Waodani indigenous territory of the Ecuadorian Amazon. He then worked for two years as an ecological consultant for the Maquipucuna Foundation researching the biodiversity and socio-economics of cacao agroforestry systems in the Choco bioregion. Luke received permaculture training in 2011 and relocated to Peru in 2012 to work as Outreach Coordinator for the Chaikuni Institute of Permaculture developing a program for ecosocial entrepreneurship in Shipibo communities. In 2014 Luke took up the position of Director of Regenerative Design at Alianza Arkana overseeing the creation of community permaculture demonstration plots and the development of a landscape connectivity and fire resilience strategy as a key part of our work to develop more sustainable agriculture in Shipibo communities.

Stefan Kistler

Program Coordinator - Environmental Justice and Human Rights

Before coming to the Peruvian Amazon, Stefan Kistler worked for 3 years for the Rainforest Foundation Norway as a programme coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has much experience with forest management issues, indigenous and forest peoples rights, advocacy and civil society activism. He holds a Bachelor degree in Development Studies from the University of Oslo and a Master of Science in International Environmental Studies from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås. He started as a consultant for Alianza Arkana's Environmental Justice program last year and is currently coordinating the program.

Susan Valderama

Administration and Finance Manager

Susan studied Business Administration in the National University of Ucayali. She is a born and raised Pucallpina. She has over 12 years of experience working in the administration of NGOs and private charities that focus on social and environmental causes, such as Rainforest Expeditions, Manuela Ramos Movement, Incagro, Chemonixs, and the Chamber of Commerce of Pucallpa.

Amanda Garratt

Communications and Fundraising Coordinator

Amanda Garratt came to Peru as a Fulbright scholar in 2009 where she began working with the Shipibo for the first time on a photography project that documents environmental injustices facing these communities. Before this she worked in Washington DC on a USAID Amazon Conservation project and also in Detroit, Michigan where she worked with the Environmental Justice Initiative on environmental health community research. Amanda has a joint Masters degree from the University of Michigan in Natural Resources and the Environment and Macro Social Work, in which she focused on community organizing around environmental justice. Amanda has worked with Alianza Arkana since 2009 as Communications Director although moved back to the US in Feb 2014 to pursue her dreams in sustainable buidling. She now acts as an advisor and supports us part time in our communications and fundraising efforts. 

Reagan Kuhn

Online Communications Manager

Reagan Kuhn works in online strategy for Alianza Arkana. Having worked in online communications for Human Rights First in New York City, she came to the Amazon on an exploratory trip to study environmental and human rights issues. Originally from the United States, she has lived in Paris, Vietnam, and now Peru, studying and working in international development, environmental issues, and human rights for various research, funding, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including WWF, GRET, Ford Foundation, and others. She has an undergraduate degree from Boston University in English and Ancient Greek and Latin and a Masters Degree from Sciences Po Paris in International Affairs.

Lily Hollister

Communications and Fundraising Coordinator

Lily grew up on a small land trust in rural Pennsylvania, USA. She has been living and working in Latin America for the last 8 years in Costa Rica, Ecuador and now Peru. She has worked in diverse areas such as teaching, curriculum design, volunteer coordination, project facilitation, translation, ecotourism, communications and fundraising. She has a B.A. in Social Theory, Structure and Change with a focus in Community Advocacy and Sustainability from SUNY. For the last 4 years she has been in the Amazon Rainforest working with indigenous communities and promoting social and environmental justice through grassroots organizing. She is an avid dancer, singer, writer, artist and enjoys playing the quena (Andean flute) and spending time in nature. She speaks English, Spanish and French fluently, and is in the process of learning Shipibo.

Liz Rengifo Melendez

Administration Assistant

Liz is a young shipibo woman from the community of San Francisco, located about an hour from the city of Pucallpa. She studied Computer and Information Technology at a Technical Institute in Pucallpa. She would like to go on to study medicine and then get a Diploma in Child Development to become a pediatrician. If successful, she would be the first university trained Shipibo Doctor, and would, thereby, offer an excellent role model for other young Shipibo women. Liz assists in all things administration related here at Alianza Arkana and manages much of our data, making payments and organizing the electronic and paper files. She also plays a key role in shopping for materials needed in the workshops we do in Shipibo communities.

Rebeca Rengifo Melendez

Environmental Education Assistant

Rebeca has been giving environmental education workshops and conducting community consultations for Alianza Arkana since September of 2012. She has supported lots of our work with nutrition and also has been an avid participant and facilitator of the young women's empowerment work we support in Shipibo communities. Previously, Rebeca worked with as a promoter for another non-profit, Manuela Ramos, which focussed on issues of sexual and reproductive health and education for young women. Rebeca has now started her own NGO called Xontakobaon Nete, which translates as Young Women's World. The Xontakobaon Nete vision statement is: "We aspire to create a world in which young Shipibo women and girls can retain their ancestral knowledge and culture while working to protect the environment in which they live, where they can pursue healthy lifestyles now and plan a better future for the next generation. Through the theory and practice of our values, we aim to keep our legacy alive." Rebeca is in her 2nd year studying Administration and International Business in Alas Peruanas University in Pucallpa with a scholarship that Alianza Arkana helped her obtain from BothENDS. She helps out in the office and in the communities with just about anything we need her to, and we are very grateful to have her as part of our team.

Marcos Urquia

Community Permaculture Specialist

Marcos Urquia is from the Shipibo community of Nuevo Panaillo. He received a degree in agronomy from the University of Tingo Maria, and then in 1995 took a permaculture course, with permaculture specialist, Ali Sharif. Fascinated by the topic, Marcos completed a degree at the Permaculture Insittute of the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil in 2003. Since then, Marcos has worked on several permaculture projects with indigenous communities in the Amazon. He is currently implementing a permaculture plan at our intercultural school in Puerto Firmeza, as well as developing plans for three other communities on the Ucayali River through our Community Based Solutions Program.

Roberto Muñoz Sandoval

Community Permaculture Specialist

Roberto is a 33 year old Shipibo man who lives with his wife and three children in the community of Nuevo Egipto, where, since July 2012, he has coordinated the Alianza Arkana community permaculture project called Bena Nii – meaning 'New Forest' in Shipibo. He's always had the dream to turn the desertifying land in his community back into a forest. Roberto studied agriculture and animal husbandry for 3 years in Colonia del Caco. Later, a volunteer from Swarthmore University introduced him to Alianza Arkana and helped him to obtain a grant to take a Permaculture Design Course in Puerto Maldonado in 2011. In 2012, he did a month-long permaculture design internship in Iquitos with Alianza Arkana. The Bena Nii permaculture project has 13 local beneficiaries who have built a community nursery, designed and developed fruit and vegetable zones in their family plots, learned to prepare soil, plant vegetables and trees, and develop their own compost. There is also a 2 hectare demonstrative area where Roberto has planted a diversity of crops, and built a storeroom, a house for volunteers, a composting toilet and a washroom with its own grey water filtration system. In 5 or 10 years, Roberto hopes to see a paradise within the community: "medicinal plants, trees, food, all we need! I think we can also build up the seed bank so that other communities can benefit and that this part of the Amazon can thrive with all the trees it used to once again."

Fernando Cauper Zumaeta

Community Permaculture Specialist

Fernando is a 29 year old Shipibo man living in the community of Santa Clara. From a young age, Fernando's father taught him the importance of leaving a legacy for future generations. As he grew up, he watched the devastating impacts of illegal logging on his community and the forest, and was determined to do something about it. Through Alianza Arkana's SEED program, Fernando began enacting his dreams of being able to provide for all his family's needs from their own land, as well as teaching other young people from his community how to revitalize the land and make it productive by using permaculture methods. Just as his father taught him, Fernando aims to leave a positive legacy for his children and generations to come. Fernando is now working for Alianza Arkana coordinating a team of Shipibo men who are creating a 2 hectare permaculture demonstration site in San Francisco Community.

Orestes Rengifo Cauper

Manager of Operations - Community-Based Solutions Program

Orestes is a trained dentist who used to visit communities up and down the Ucayali taking them medicines and giving treatments. This has helped a great deal in the work he does now with Alianza Arkana, as he has good relationships with communities due to the service he did before. Orestes is in charge of making sure we've always got what is needed at the different project sites. He often takes compost from San Francisco community to our permaculture projects. He also does a lot of construction, building our community upscaling centres and compost latrines. He trains the environmental promoters- the people who work for us in the communities- teaching them how to prepare compost, and how to separate waste materials and make eco-bricks. He says, "I'd like to see people living healthily in the communities, with less contamination. For example, in 3 communities that are clustered around a bay, Utucuro, Belen and Roya, we are building compost latrines to avoid human waste contaminating the bay. People still drink from this river, so it is vital to keep it clean.We also need to promote reforestation projects in more communities. Many are affected by illegal logging; these communities are cutting down their trees but few are planting new ones. But an alternative is possible, these communities could act as an example, where people maintain the forest, live in harmony with their environment and inspire others to do the same."

Ronal Roque 

Keras Yama Coordinator and Municipal Liaison

Ronal is a 32 year old Shipibo man living in San Francisco community who started working for Alianza Arkana in June of 2012, after we successfully lobbied the municipality of Yarinacocha for the creation of his position as waste collection coordinator for his community. Walking the line between worlds of the municipality and our non-profit,Ronal's gifts as a respected communicator and diligent representative are invaluable in achieving landmark agreements that benefit the health of his community. Ronal originally came to us being diagnosed with type II diabetes, and has since transformed himself and his life by radically overhauling his diet and using plant medicine. Now he is digging banana circles everyday and exemplifies a strong, healthy member of his community. He studied accounting and computer science and formerly taught computers classes in his local secondary school. He has four children.

Fabian Rengifo Cauper

Head of Jema Jakoanti Project in San Francisco

Fabian has served as president of the Jema Jakoanti/Zero Waste project in the community of San Francisco since 2011. He has 3 workers under his command in the waste collection center, producing 1 tonne of organic compost per month, which is then sold to local organic producers and used in Alianza Arkana community outreach and permaculture projects. Before working with Alianza Arkana, Fabian worked as a farmer and fisherman. When the San Francisco Saludable project arrived in San Francisco, he jumped on board and worked there for two years before Alianza Arkana took it over as Jema Jakoanti. Fabian says that his community was filthy before Jema Jakoanti- people would dump their rubbish all over the place. Now people know what to do with their waste, they don't dump it, they separate it for collection by Fabian's team who come around three times a week for organic waste and twice a week for inorganic waste. Fabian dreams of seeing the project grow and continue improving the cleanliness and health of San Francisco community, and to develop the composting initiative into a thriving business.

Debbie Rivett

Videographer

Debbie Rivett is an independent producer, director, camera operator, presenter, educator, and musician. Having entered the industry in South Africa in 1997, she has extensive experience in film and television both in front of, and behind the camera. Her work tends to incorporate culture, development, art and creative mediums, human rights and social political issues. Her passion is working with indigenous people and their issues, utilizing the power of film to empower, educate and inform.

Sydney Morical

Communications Assistant/Intern

Sydney wanted to be an environmentalist working in the Amazon rainforest when she was nine years old. Now she is doing something along those lines, spending a good deal of time documenting regenerative projects in Shipibo communities and learning how communities transition themselves towards resilience. Before she was hiking through cashaucsha, she conducted research for Amazon Watch on oil extraction in Ecuador and Peru. She holds a dual degree from the University of Southern California in Environmental Studies and Gender Studies.

Board of Advisors

Atossa Soltani

Founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch

Atossa is the Founder and Executive Director of Amazon Watch - a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. In partnership with indigenous peoples, Atossa has been leading campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems. Atossa is the chair of the board of trustees of the Christensen Fund and serves on the board of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. Before Amazon Watch, Atossa directed campaigns at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to end logging in endangered ecosystems. Atossa began her environmental career in the late 1980's as Conservation Director for the City of Santa Monica where she designed and directed an award-winning resource conservation program.

Lily La Torre 

Human Rights Lawyer

Lily La Torre was born in the Peruvian Amazon and received her law degree from the Catholic University of Peru. She serves as legal advisor to the Legal Defense Program of Amazon Indigenous Organizations and the Interethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Jungle. In 1995, she co-founded Racimos de Ungurahui, a non-governmental organization promoting the rights of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. She is the author of "All We Want is to Live in Peace," published in 1999, in which she shares lessons learned over 15 years working with the Achuar and other indigenous communities in Peru seeking to protect their lands from polluting oil companies. 

Belen Paez 

Executive Director of Fundacion Pachamama (Sister NGO of Pachamama Alliance based in Ecudaor)

Albert Bates

Environmental Educator, Lawyer, Author

Albert Bates is the author of 14 books including The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, and Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. A former environmental rights lawyer, he has lived at The Farm, a pioneering intentional community in Tennessee for the past 40 years. He has taught courses on permaculture, eco-village design and natural building for over 30 years. Albert appears frequently as a public speaker, commentator and on podcasts, and is a regular blogger and tweeter. He is the co-founder of three organizations, including Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (which he has headed for 35 years); the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and the Global Ecovillage Network. GVI channels resources to forward-looking social movements worldwide, including a peace-through-permaculture project in Israel and Palestine, a municipal landfill arts project in Mexico, and the Sail Transport Network, moving fair trade goods along coastal routes.