Ruth Metzel, Co-Founder and Director

Ruth has a Master of Forestry and MBA from Yale University, and a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University. In addition to working with the Azuero Earth Project, she has been a part of The Forests Dialogue, the International Society of Tropical Foresters, and the Governance, Environment and Markets Initiative at Yale. Ruth has written about Azuero in publications such as “Manejo de Nutrientes y Seguridad Alimentaria en Huertos Caseros Mesoamericanos” (2015) and “Farm to Forest: Factors Associated with Protecting and Planting Trees in a Panamanian Agricultural Landscape” (2015). Her field experience includes research projects with the Smithsonian in Panama, along with work in Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Peru, Venezuela and the United States. If she is not in the office, you can find her dancing típico, kayaking, hiking or in a “junta de embarre.”

Vernon Scholey, Co-Founder

Vern has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fisheries Biology from the University of Washington. He has worked in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, Washington State, Japan, Ecuador and since 1985 has been the Director of the Achotines Laboratory at the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula. Investigations at the Achotines Laboratory, a field station of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, focus on the ecology and biology of tuna. Research is carried out at sea and on land where simulated ocean conditions allow scientists to work with eggs and larvae provided by captive spawning yellowfin tuna. Achotines Laboratory also hosts a number of research scientists in other marine and terrestrial disciplines as well as University short courses and field trips.

Jairo Batista Bernal, Organic Garden and Tree Nursery Coordinator

Jairo Batista Bernal was born in Pesé, Herrera on November 30, 1966. He attended Hipolito Pérez Tello Elementary School in Chitré, Pesé Secondary School Middle School and graduated from the Professional and Technical Institute of Azuero as an electronics technician. Afterwards, he obtained a clinical assistant degree from the Technological Center of Panama. Today, he lives in Los Asientos with his family, where he has participated in scientific investigations such as native species reforestation projects with the Smithsonian’s PRORENA project, tree studies with Princeton University and the University of Florida, and as a field guide for sighting wildlife (such as the Azuero Spider Monkey) with California State University, Northridge. In his free time he works in reforestation, agroforestry and to maintain his personal garden and native species tree plantation. He is a founding member of the Association of Agrosilvopastoral Cattle Producers of Pedasi (APASPE).  Jairo is in charge of the Azuero Earth Project’s model experimental organic garden and tree nursery in Pedasi. As a part of this effort, he gardens organically, with ornamental plants and vegetables, and coordinates with the garden team, which includes staff and volunteers. In addition, he contributes his knowledge of native tree species in the region to other AEP programs and is responsible for the management of the Pedasi office property.

Johanna Durget, Education Coordinator

Johanna has been studying in the International Studies department at the University of Montréal in Canada since 2012 with an emphasis on Political Science in Latin America. She participated in an exchange with the University of Guadalajara in Mexico in the last year of her undergraduate degree, where she developed an interest in studying environmental impact in indigenous and local communities. Born in the French Antilles, Johanna has always lived close to nature and learned from a very young age to live respecting the environment. Also a traveler, Johanna has lived in France, the United States, Canada and Mexico and is trilingual. During her time with a foster family in the United States, she tutored 2 children in French, feeding her interest in education and information exchange. Johanna has worked previously at an eco-hostel in Panama, where she assisted with a reforestation and permaculture project, cementing her interest for the environment and ecotourism. Her interest in learning and acting has led to her work with the Azuero Earth Project.

Trevor Toia, Research Intern

Trevor Toia is currently studying Urban Sustainability and Environmental Science at San Diego State University. From his studies he quickly realized that these two subjects were intrinsically related and crucial in the cause to preserve local culture and local and global ecosystems. the years, he has travelled to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, Mexico, Central and South Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. In his last trip to Panama, Trevor was instantly intrigued by the land and wildlife. After his first trip to Panama, he knew he wanted to come back and help with AEP because of all the positive work they do with the environment. Having traveled to numerous remote places in the world, he has become aware of the need to commit to making the world a better and sustainable place for his generation and future generations to come. His love of nature led him to his hobbies of rock-climbing, hiking, fishing, and cooking local foods. One of his passions is ceramic art. He was awarded the Southern California Arts Council first place in ceramics. In addition to working with AEP, he hopes to have time to explore indigenous ceramic art in Azuero and share his knowledge of working with clay.

Nikita Sivakumar, Web and Communications Intern

Nikita Sivakumar is currently a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in the U.S. Over her past years she has had the opportunity to take advanced courses in biology and computer science. Outside of school, she volunteers locally and internationally. She enjoys tutoring fellow students, participating in Relay for Life and frequently helping out at local events. She also writes for her school newspaper, “TJToday”, and attends local Model U.N. conferences, where she can share her opinions about global affairs. Above all, Nikita has always embraced the beauty of nature, and often takes walks around her neighborhood and travels to national parks. She fell in love with AEP, not only because its mission statement reflected her passion to save the environment, but also because the project combined interesting topics she had studied in school. Nikita is excited to contribute to AEP as a Web and Communications Intern.

Denis Orquídea Vergara, Casa Pasa Cleaner

Denis Orquídea Vergara is a native of Pedasí. She spent some years away from her dear hometown but later returned to be with her family and grandchildren. She joins the Azuero Earth Project to take charge of maintaining the office, a task that will not be difficult for her seeing as she is a dynamic woman with lots of enthusiasm and plenty of interest in learning environmentally friendly cleaning techniques.