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Trees, Water, & People

Together with our partners, we are creating tangible solutions for climate vulnerable populations on the front lines of the fight for the planet. Our projects are based on a human-centric model of conservation that works towards meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

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Sebastian Africano, Executive Director
Start Date: 2017

Sebastian Africano, Deputy International Director for Trees, Water & People (TWP), was trained as a Rocket Stove consultant by the Aprovecho Research Center in 2004, and began working with TWP in early 2005 as a marketing and commercialization intern for TWP's improved stove program in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He subsequently went on to develop his own consulting practice in the region, supporting fuel-efficient stove projects in five Central American countries. Later, Sebastian worked as a Senior Environmental Adviser to International Lifeline Fund's projects in Sudan, Eastern Kenya, Northern Uganda and Tanzania before accepting the position of Deputy International Director at TWP in 2009. He earned a BS in International Business and Marketing from Penn State University. Sebastian manages TWP's international fuel-efficient stove and reforestation programs in Central America and Haiti.

Gemara Gifford, International Director
Start Date: 2017

Gem joined TWP in 2015 as an intern for the International Program, and then served as our Development Director in 2016 and 2017. She has dedicated the last six years of her career to show how natural resource conservation and community development can work hand-in-hand across the Americas, especially in the most remote and fragmented places where resources are scarce, and people are forgotten. In her new role, Gem's vision is to work closely with our local partners and community leaders to design holistic programs that emphasize reforestation, improved cookstoves, sustainable agriculture, water security, and biodiversity monitoring in rural Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Valerie Small, National Director
Start Date: 2019

As a 'First Generation" student to graduate with a college degree in her family, Dr. Valerie Small (Apsáalooke) completed her PhD in BioAgricultural Sciences & Pest Management-Weed Sciences Division from Colorado State University in 2013. Her interdisciplinary research was conducted on the homelands of the Crow Tribe of Indians (Crow Nation) (home of her maternal grandfather). Her research was focused on trees, water and the Crow People, and incorporated western science within a traditional knowledges framework. This research was essentially a vulnerability assessment of the culturally significant riparian species, Plains Cottonwood that is quickly being replaced by the invasive species Russian olive, along the Little Bighorn and Bighorn River watersheds within the exterior boundaries of the Crow Indian reservation. This research was also recently published in the recently released 4th National Climate Assessment as a case study in Chapter 22, Northern Great Plains.

Val's experience in program development stems from her previously working at a Tribal College in South-central Montana (Little Big Horn College), as well as co-convening a climate-smart training course for Tribes in the North-central region with the North-Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Fort Collins). Val has also participated in training workshops for Tribes in the Southwest, and conducted research for Tribal-driven climate change vulnerability assessments. Val is dedicated to improving access and availability to harvest culturally significant plant/animals species within Tribal lands for future generations to use as food sources (decolonizing the diet), and plant species utilized in the practice of sacred ceremonies. TWP and Val believe that Tribes should set their own conservation priorities and manage their own conservation projects. Thus, Val will be looking to continue to partner with Indigenous based non-profits and grassroots organizations so that Indigenous communities can create local and sustainable job opportunities to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events (flooding, drought, and wildfire) and monitor restoration and reforestation efforts due to a warming climate. Val is looking to continue to improve our Solar Suitcase (We Share Solar) curriculum through partnering with instructors/teachers from Tribal Colleges, universities, and high schools to educate Tribal youth on solar energy technology. We at TWP seek to improve ecosystems while building economic development opportunities within Native American communities in North America, Alaska and the Pacific Islands.

Ray Tollison, Director of Brand Strategy
Start Date: 2020

For the past 25 years he has lived in Ft. Collins with his favorite person Sarah and together raised three other great humans. Between lots of outdoor activities over the last 25 years he has managed to work for some great organizations, met some incredible people and had the honor of telling their stories to the world through design and photography.

James Calabaza, National Program Coordinator
Start Date: 2019

Born in the state of New Mexico, James grew up with a passion to help indigenous communities across the country. As a first generation college graduate with an Agricultural Business degree from Colorado State Univerisity, James strives towards educating others about the importance of higher education and self-identity.

After working in the government sector for a few years, James realized his heart belonged to the nonprofit world. James joined TWP as the National Program Coordinator and will work closely with communities across the country on developing a plan to move their communities towards a renewable and cleaner world. As a proud indigenous community member, he understands and experienced first hand the hardships that affect indigenous communities across the country. Following his passion and spiritual education from his community elders, his vision is to educate and empower the warriors of tomorrow, all while respecting and honoring our ancestral roots.

Valentina de Rooy, Regional Manager
Start Date: 2017

Valentina joined TWP in 2017 as the Regional Coordinator, combining her passion to work with rural communities and multidisciplinary research to develop bottom-up M&E processes, side-by-side with local partners, strengthening their capacities in leadership and gender-based approaches. As a Central American, Valentina believes that the changes for her region must be systemic and grassroots. Therefore, she continues to expand her work, aligned with the philosophy of TWP to establish close and trusting relationships with people in order to walk alongside communities in the transformation and regeneration of their territories towards sustainability and well-being.

Valentina was born and raised in Nicaragua. She has her B.S. in Psychology, a Diploma in Public Management for Territorial Development, and is completing her Master's Degree in Cognitive Sciences at the University of Costa Rica. In her free time, she enjoys crafting, dancing salsa, exploring nature, and learning about indigenous traditions.

Daniela Bueso, Community Relations Coordinator
Start Date: 2019

Born in Colombia, Daniela grew up with a passion for the outdoors and her culture. In 2000, she moved to Miami were she began her professional career by getting a B.S. degree in Environmental Studies at Florida International University. Through volunteering and internships with the university and other nonprofits, she developed an interest for marine ecosystems, restoration projects and community engagement. After graduating, she took an incredible journey to Paraguay where she lived for 27 months as a Conservation Specialist with the Peace Corps. It was through this experience that her passion for community based conservation and working with local communities grew exponentially.

This led to her to Graduate School where received and M.S. in Conservation Leadership through Learning at Colorado State University. While living in Belize for her master's capstone project, she traveled around the country talking to various stakeholders and conducting community consultations to explore new ways to manage the invasive lionfish. This experience further increased her interest in working with diverse groups of people and learning how to collaborate effectively. She joined TWP as an intern in 2018 and is now as a community relations coordinator. She is excited about the opportunity to bring her people skills to the table and work with various groups of local and international stakeholders.

Jose Chalit, Communications Manager
Start Date: 2018

Originally born in Mexico City, José grew up moving around Latin America and the U.S. before finally setting down roots in Colorado in 2004, all of which stimulates José's passion for storytelling and community development. As a filmmaker and graphic artist, José has always been committed to telling stories that involve local community members and generate social impact. José comes to TWP after graduating from Seattle University in 2017 with a B.A. in Film Studies and Theology. He is excited to continue forming and creating TWP's story, and loves being back in Colorado while also having opportunites to work with Latin American and Native populations across the hemisphere.

Hellen Castro, Data & Marketing Manager
Start Date: 2020

Hellen was born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica. She grew up enjoying the biodiversity of her country, which is why she is passionate about conservation and her culture. Hellen holds a B.S degree in Communications from the University of Costa Rica and in 2018 she moved to Colorado to obtain the Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA from Colorado State University.

Diane Vella, Finance Director
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Diane Vella, Finance Director for Trees, Water & People (TWP), has 25 years of experience as an accountant for environmentally-conscious businesses in both Colorado and California. Prior to joining TWP in 2007, she co-led bicycle tours throughout Spain, France, Italy, Sicily, Greece, and Croatia. Diane is deeply committed to social responsibility for ethical business and sustainable community programs.


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