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.”

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.

Cristóbal Pérez, Program and Communications assistant

Presently, Cristóbal is finishing his Bachelor in Microbiology with an emphasis in Parasitology in the Centro Regional Universitario of Azuero. He participated in several programs that supported his academic growth all along of his studies, including the course Giants’ Field Biology, which was sponsored by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the 5th Pan-American Dengue Research Network Meeting, and a monitoring study on the Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi azueresis) taking place in the village of Pedasí, for which an article will be published in the near future. Cristóbal loves nature and all the extraordinary secrets that it continues to hide. He is passionate about his field and his major goal is to have the opportunity of realizing scientific research for the benefit of nature and for our quality of live. He has always believed that we are all interconnected with the universe, and that by harming the environment, we also harm ourselves.

Edward García, Education Assistant

Born in Peña Blanca, Las Tablas, Edward García has obtained a bachelor´s degree in
Geographical and Ecological Tourism. He has received further qualifications in topics
related to tourism and museology in Nicaragua, and he attended a course about Sustainable
Rural Development with a focus on the improvement of life quality in Japan and Colombia.
Edward García enjoys travelling and learning about new places, and he loves nature which
is why he spends a lot of time taking care of it. He has participated in activities on
Environmental Education and in the implementation of community development projects in
the National Park Chagres (River basin of the Panama Canal). Moreover, he likes making
new friendships and learning new things every day. His motto is “Nature does not need the
human, it is the human who needs nature”.

Karen Rodriguez, Office Caretaker

Karen was born in Panama City and went to elementary school at San Antonio school in Chorrera and secondary school at De Lecert Professional and Technical School. She worked in the Ciadeli shrimp farm in Vacamonte, and moved to Pedasi in 2006, where she lives with her family and is currently in charge of the cleaning and maintenance of the Azuero Earth Project offices.

Angelica Marie Chung Bernal, intern

Angelica Marie Chung Bernal was her first years of life in Panama City. She moved to Herrera, Chitre, in 2006 she entered to Soyuz Bilingual School where she is actually cursing her bachelor that is science with emphasis in computing, bilingual. She participated in different contests of poetry and dictations. Poetry was her strong, she gained the second place in her category. In addition was part of the school music band her last years of basic education playing the flute. In seventh grade she developed her passion for the natural sciences. She entered to the internal soccer, volleyball and basketball league. On the other hand, she joined the ecologic group of her school, “Econature”, where she went several times to different beaches to collect garbage. She wants to study maritime and port engineering, because everything related to the sea catches her attention. She is a serene and pleasant student.


Gabriel Antonio Castillo Batista, Intern

Gabriel Antonio Castillo Batista, was born on September 13 in the year 2000, he is currently 18 years old. His mother’s name was Johanna Aracely Batista Díaz, she was a pharmacist and worked at Chitre’s Hospital pharmacy. His father Oliver Oriel Castillo Gonzalez has worked in public institutions such as Minsa. Nowadays, he is living with his maternal grandmother and his maternal uncle in La Villa de Los Santos and he is a senior of 12th grade at Soyuz Bilingual School; school in which he studied since 2011.

Currently, Gabriel aspires to become a doctor in human medicine and wishes to specialize on cardiology and also become a surgeon. He is applying to medicine faculty in Universidad de Panama, but also he is applying for a complete scholarship for the career in a private college, this scholarship are with the Ifharu. Fun fact is that medicine was not is only choice, he wanted to study gastronomy, but he changed his mind on 7th grade when the class was shown an open heart surgery, he started to like the human anatomy and specially the heart. Since then, he has not changed his mind on becoming a doctor.

Gabriel holds within himself, moral values that has been taught to him by the people that supports him. The Palma Paz family, taught him about the importance of studying and responsibility and honesty, although they are not blood related, they love him as child of their own and have raised him since he was 3 months old. Gabriel counts too with the support of his paternal uncles and his maternal grandparents.