Introducing you to some of our newest community members!
Justin Lee Henson (Peru/USA) has the combination of experience and expertise that are rarely found in just one person. He has been to 15 different countries and speaks three languages, including Mandarin, English, and Spanish. His widespread experience and diverse specializations have allowed him to work in several coveted projects with world leaders.
Originally from Houston, Texas, USA, Justin earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas; later he worked in the financial industry of the largest home builder in the United States, Centex. After dealing with a very difficult year due to the 2008 financial crisis, Justin decided to make a significant career change, moving to Taiwan to teach English to Taiwanese children. In Taiwan, he received a full scholarship to study intensive Mandarin and began a Master’s Degree in Organic Agriculture. It was during this time that Justin discovered Permaculture and Bio-construction and decided to abandon his master’s studies to pursue a new dream.
After returning to the US, Justin quickly became involved in several projects including an internship with Sustainable Earthship Biotecture, where he was invited to join a campaign in Guatemala working with the non-profit organization called LONG WAY HOME, to build sustainable houses for the indigenous Mayan families of Guatemala. His project, “Bottle Buildings and Bamboo Bicycles in Guatemala,” was a great success. This project had a tremendous effect on Justin. He decided to stay in Guatemala and continue working with LONG WAY HOME and with the Mayan indigenous communities.
Justin then went on to work in an eco-village in Chalmita, Mexico and to Costa Rica to study and receive his Permaculture Design Certificate from the well-known and renowned professors Stephen Brooks and Itai Dolev Hauben of the Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design and Botanical Studies.
Due to his intensive experience in bio-construction, he was invited to Iquitos, Peru by Paititi Institute to help in the construction of new buildings in its Center. Justin now lives in the Amazon zone of Peru where he owns and operates his company, Eco-Héroes De La Tierra and works as a permaculture consultant. In addition he works with the Peruvian company Reforesta Peru which focuses on large-scale reforestation and for a US-based conservation company called Planet Alpha Forest
(https://planetalphaforest.earth/) which supports landowners and indigenous peoples to reduce CO2 emissions through forest growth and sustainable management. As if that were not enough, Jason is the Peruvian representative of the Dutch company Groasis, promoting and selling their innovative product Waterboxxes used for planting trees in reforestation and ecological restoration projects in Peru.
In January 2016, Justin was accepted by Gaia University to study his Master’s in Integrative EcoSocial Design, focusing on how to design communities and businesses in a sustainable way using the principles of permaculture and bio-construction, conserving and regenerating the systems that support life on earth.
Jason Engledoe was born in Cape Town, South Africa in the mid 1970’s. He has a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Strategic Management. Despite idyllic surroundings and promised changes to the racial oppression he had experienced growing up, he felt compelled to leave the country he called home. Jason was on a mission to discover his own truth and the world would be his teacher. The problem was, at 17 years of age, he had never stepped foot on an airplane – this was a luxury to be relished only by the fortunate few. He had never even left the province in which he lived, but there he had an ever-present drive to go and see the world, to discern truth, to find his freedom.
After 13 years of living abroad in three different countries, he is now back in South Africa where he recently completed his Permaculture Design Certificate, and before this an Aquaponics Workshop with Dr James Rakocy, as well as a Natural Building Course and now feels ready to be on the front line to help explore and design better ways of living, for the benefit of all. With a background in Education, and International Trade & Investment Promotion, Jason’s journey continues whilst reaching out to the communities which have embraced non-traditional methods of agriculture. His focus now is to pursue a Masters of Science in Integrative Ecosocial Design, supported by the Climate Steward Scholarship initiative. “Gaia U, with its transformative action-based learning programs, affords me the opportunity to integrate learning with doing whilst finding solutions for real-world problems. Since regenerative agricultural practices are relatively new in South Africa, Gaia U will provide access to its alumni of world changers through mentorship, advisory, and expert support.”
His vision is to 1) develop a model for regenerative livelihoods whilst living off the land with his partner; 2) establish a living learning centre, to welcome people from all over the world to help co-create the space, whilst simultaneously refining the model; and 3) work closely with specific governmental & other entities, to implement regenerative livelihood models on small parcels of land.
To support Jason’s fundraising campaign to complete his program, click here.
Alena Kempf-Stein was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1975. She holds a Master of engineering degree as an architect majoring in project development and management. She is also a trained management assistant in wholesale and foreign trade.
In addition to being a wife and mother of three, Alena has been self-employed for 20 years in microenterprises as a trainer for project management assistance in building and marketing. She also finds time to explore her interests in developmental psychology, education, attached parenting, transaction analysis, non-violent communication, sustainable building, shamanic training traditions, permaculture, kundalini yoga, and nature play education.
With her Gaia U program, Alena aims to strengthen her connection to self, nature, and community. She wishes to develop her work in a parental organized wilderness awareness kindergarten and share those good practices with other preschools. In the long term, she wants to initiate a “Nat- and Cult-u-re Garden” to share her liberating experiences by offering play, education, food, seedlings and hardware for self-sufficiency.
Anuradha Ranasinghe is the eldest among six children of a farming family in Galle, Sri Lanka. He was fortunate in his youth to qualify in the grade five scholarship exam to attend the best school in his country. Since a young age, his vision was to develop a career in agriculture. He initially obtained a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture specializing in horticulture and landscape gardening.
He is a committee member of the Participatory Guarantee System which was recently introduced for the first time in Sri Lanka as an alternative method for third-party Organic Certification. He has worked six-years for a nonprofit company (working with smallholder rice farmers) founded as a Stanford University Social Innovation Fellowship. As a result of dedication and tireless efforts, he was able to launch his own agriculture consultancy company in February 2017 in which he consults with farmers and landowners to apply organic and sustainable agriculture concepts to develop their farmlands and increase their productivity. He recently visited the USA for six months as an exchange student to study permaculture and organic agriculture practices.
During his Gaia University Master’s degree program, Anuradha plans to develop his consultancy company in addition to forming other businesses such as “Farm to Kitchen” – which aims to deliver fresh produce from local farms directly to customers according to a community support agriculture (CSA) module. The farmer group engaged in this project consists of 50 farm families based in the northern part of Sri Lanka and has been severely affected by 30 years of war.
LyOr Rabinowiz (Israel/USA) is a Permaculture Designer and Community Organizer who is passionate about collective transformation toward positive social change. He currently manages an 8.5-acre food forest and silvopasture and 2-acre vineyard in California, USA. Previously, he spent time in Israel designing, maintaining, and installing food forests. During his time in Oakland, California, he co-managed Planting Justice’s Transform Your Yard Program and was on the Board of Directors. He co-facilitated classes in San Quentin Prison about permaculture, environmental justice, and sustainability with the Insight Garden Program as well as The Green Life, where he continued to work with folks in re-entry. He co-facilitates workshops with Be Present Inc., teaching about tools for dialogue, developing effective relationships, and addressing the impacts of race, gender, power, class, and other divides on our personal and collective well being. He is also active in creating and sustaining intentional communities as well as leading workshops on the subject.
His current dream is to go back to Israel with his partner Michal and work with youth in boarding schools to build outdoor food forest classroom spaces where they will learn about permaculture, food forestry, personal growth, and collective leadership.
Michal Niv (Israel) is an eco-social activist, consultant, facilitator, life coach, traveler, yoga teacher, and dancer. She is an enthusiastic guide for building healthy relationships and personal growth and using humor as a tool for maintaining perspective. She acquired her unofficial degree while traveling and living in several communities and farms around the world, where she was inspired and activated by permaculture. With this inspiration, Michal co-founded the Shdemama ecovillage in Israel, as an experiential playground to explore interpersonal dynamics, nature connection, and personal growth. She served as a facilitator, teaching about healthy dialogue and conflict resolution, leading “wemoon” circles and workshops, managing volunteers, and organizing events. Michal is also a consultant, supporting communities and individuals around the country to live to their potential while developing ecosocial awareness.
Michal currently lives in California, USA with her partner LyOr, whom she met as they co-developed and taught a workshop on how to create and sustain intentional communities. Her primary focus at the moment is on her Master’s program at Gaia University. The two main dreams she is pursuing are 1) to work with youth at risk in boarding schools in Israel through building outdoor food forest classroom spaces and teaching about permaculture, food forestry, personal growth, and collective leadership, and 2) taking her community consulting work to a global level.
Malcolm Koh is from Yaoundé, Cameroon where he volunteers at Better World Cameroon and works with the Bafut Permaculture ecovillage. As a child, the notion of hunger was always present in his consciousness but was hard for him to understand because he saw how potent the lands were. It was this insight that led him to discover permaculture, and with it, he discovered a new potential to help people in Cameroon and around the world with food security and the building of resilient communities.
At the Bafut ecovillage, Malcolm has participated in planting gardens, building water and bio-gas tanks. He also serves as community manager for the ecovillage and writes articles and shares stories through various social media platforms. His passion for sharing the stories that help to reveal the lives of people who cannot speak for themselves has led him into journalism. Despite the increasing challenge to do his work in the current political climate in Cameroon, he seeks to give the people of his country access to accurate and objective information.
During his Master’s degree program with Gaia University, Malcolm will work 1) to develop an agribusiness within the framework of the Bafut Ecovillage starting with mushrooms and snails to help empower local youth with the spirit of entrepreneurship, 2) spread the message of community development through resilient ecovillages to the entire population of Cameroon, and 3) create an independent agency to foster community-oriented journalism rather than politics.
Jonny Waywell is the co-founder of The Free Glades Project. He currently runs the project from Oxfordshire UK where he lives and works as a gardener, whilst The Free Glades site is located in central Bulgaria.
Through years spent developing art organisations for social enterprise and working for a variety of charities, Jonny developed the desire to merge social and self-development with his love for the outdoors. He is an avid outdoorsman focusing on new ways to use traditional bushcraft skills.
After a lot of self-directed learning, and further employment in farming and the outdoors, he and his wife decided to begin The Free Glades Project, a service for sustainable resilience and self-development based on the gift economy. Jonny is also the host of The Resilient Transmission, an open source ecosocial podcast
“I am proud to be studying at Gaia University for a Diploma in Action for Resilience.”
Jonny says, “To find out more go to facebook.com/thefreeglades and join our group so we can ‘Grow Towards Freedom’ together”. You can donate to Jonny’s fundraising efforts for his Gaia U program, click here.
A warm shout out to Diana Duarte (Colombia) , Naomi Langley (USA), Ivette Mendoza (Australia), Nancy Edwards (USA), Anya Gandelman (USA) who also joined the Gaia U community as part of the cohort that began in October 2017!