Sarah Kerremans took on the challenging opportunity to run the Chaikuni Institute in the northern Peruvian Amazon after working as a legal adviser for refugees and migrants in Europe in defense of their fundamental rights.
Sarah is a Belgian Human Rights Specialist who graduated from the Catholic University of Leuven with a Post-Masters Degree in fundamental rights in Europe, asylum and migration law, and intercultural justice. Over the years, she has gained professional experience working with grassroots organizations and vulnerable groups, in the areas of advocacy and campaigning, legal advice, intercultural education and empowerment, and project management. In 2009, Sarah came to Peru and became involved with the indigenous people of the Putumayo basin in the northern Peruvian Amazon, on the border with Colombia, working on the defense of their territories. Since 2014, she has worked to support the indigenous people’s demands for environmental and social justice after 45 years of exploitation in Peru’s most important oil lot. She lives with her indigenous husband and four children in the lively jungle city of Iquitos. Sarah believes that social change is possible when social movements are strong.
Born and raised in Poland, Michal felt a calling to be involved in social work from an early age.
This led him to study Social Care Pedagogy but after graduating in 2010, Michal realized that he had to resolve many internal conflicts before he could fully dedicate himself in service to others. He left Poland in the hope of finding the answers to his many questions and arrived in Peru the same year that he graduated. Here, he started learning and immersing himself in organic farming and permaculture, which has become the focus of his life. Michal has been involved with Chaikuni since its inception, and has gained an enormous amount of experience from the implementation of our permaculture masterplan. This is now his main responsibility.
Silvia Del Aguila Reyna
Silvia joined our team in April 2016. She took on the challenging mission to further develop our permaculture site and share our experiences with nearby communities.
Born in Iquitos, Silvia spent much of her childhood at La Independencia, a small rural community just outside of Iquitos, helping her mother to cultivate their land. Silvia’s parents are native to the upper Huallaga river, a region of the Amazon whose people are known for their sophisticated agricultural practices. With a growing interest for the connection between human activity and the health of the land, Silvia attended the National University of the Amazon (UNAP) to pursue a forestry engineer career. She completed her master’s degree in Aquatic Resources with a major in Aquaculture at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos. Silvia has contributed to many different projects with both NGOs and state-owned organizations, such as working in the production and organizational arm of the Rural and Indigenous Agroforestry Coordination office, in which she became a director; collaborating with the well-respected Peruvian Amazon Research Institute on its Management and Conservation of the Biodiversity of the Nanay River Basin project; and coordinating the Reforestation and Comprehensive Gardens project for the French-Peruvian NGO, Latitude Sur.
Raised between France, USA and the UK, Sophie is committed to harnessing the transformational power of storytelling and media for social change.
Coming from a bi-cultural Franco-American background, Sophie was born in France and raised between Paris, New York and London. Prior to joining the Chaikuni Institute in 2016, Sophie worked as a Communications Specialist working across journalism, marketing, photography, publishing, production and creative consulting for NGOs such as Survival International and diverse media including The Guardian, Purple Fashion Magazine, Vestoj – A journal of Sartorial Matters, and Reve en Vert. She graduated from the renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design with a Bachelors degree in Fashion Communication and Journalism. Sophie is also the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Third Eye, an award-winning and internationally distributed magazine focused on alternative movements around the world, and she is the Co-Founder of the digital media The Other: Home of Subcultures & Style Documentary.
Intercultural Education Coordinator
Stefan joined Chaikuni in early 2017 and brings a breadth of experience in project management, indigenous peoples’ rights, intercultural education, environmental management, advocacy and civil society activism.
Stefan is a political ecologist, holding 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. Since 2008, and throughout his professional career, Stefan has worked at the interface of indigenous peoples’ rights and forest conservation. He worked for almost five years as Program Coordinator at the Rainforest Foundation Norway, first in the Congo Basin and afterwards in Peru, and previously also led the environmental justice program of Alianza Arkana. He thus has varied experiences with project management, indigenous peoples’ rights, intercultural education, environmental management, advocacy and civil society activism. Stefan is originally from Switzerland, but has been living most of his adult live abroad (Norway in particular). Since 2012, he has been living in Iquitos.
Specialized in intercultural, participatory, recreational and art therapy methodologies, Lima-born and raised Sandra joined Chaikuni in 2016.
Born and raised in Lima, Sandra graduated as a clinical psychologist from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. In 2014, she finished her studies with the desire to learn about other realities in the country and decided to move to Iquitos to work in the La Restinga Association focused on the prevention of violence against children and teenagers in one of the most vulnerable areas of the city. In 2016, she started working at NGO Warmayllu with indigenous students of bilingual education in a project aimed at building and promoting Buen Vivir practices to contribute to reducing violence against children and women. Through these experiences, Sandra’s knowledge on the design and execution of community interventions based on participatory, intercultural, recreational and art therapy methodologies has grown exponentially. That same year, she joined the Sui Sui Program as Indigenous Youth Coordinator and now works as Student Monitor within Chaikuni. Sandra is in charge of accompanying the students in their personal and professional development processes through the promotion of spaces for self-knowledge, healing, reflection and vindication.
Leopoldo Salas Ahuanari
Local Permaculture Staff
Leo, 29, comes from San Pedro, a small village located a one-hour walk from our center.
He has been working with the plants since he was nine years old and grew up with his grandparents, who passed on their agricultural knowledge to him. Leo joined our team in September 2013 and is currently responsible for a large section of our staple crops and medicinal plants. Having seen the degradation of his motherland, the forest, Leo is always enthusiastic about experimenting with new ways of working with and conserving the land.
Carlos Maytahuari Arimuya
Local Permaculture Staff
Before joining Chaikuni in February 2014, Carlos was primarily a fisherman. He was forced to change his profession when the fish stock in the river started to drop drastically due to unsustainable fishing practices.
Throughout his adult life, Carlos has worked on his own farm to support the needs of his family. He comes from Lupuna village, and like most of people living there, Carlos is a from the indigenous group known as the Cocama. In the spirit of the equality of all human beings, he loves to work and exchange knowledge with foreign people. As a manager of our nursery, Carlos gives great love and care to our baby plants. He is also responsible for harvesting.
Jorge López Cahuaza
Local Permaculture Staff
Jorge, 62, spent most of his life in the Bora community, located on Marañon River around two hours from Chachapoyas.
There, he gained experience in cattle and chicken farming, and rice and plantain production. In 2012, Jorge moved with his wife and three children to our local village, Tres Unidos. Jorge is an amazingly dedicated worker who adds resiliency to our team. His main focus with Chaikuni is taking care of our plantains and chickens.
Roger Arimuya Maytahuari
Local Permaculture Staff
Like Carlos, Roger is from the Cocama tribe in Lupuna. He brings a lot of experience to our team through his time with the Instituto Nacional de Innovacion Agraria.
Working on reforestation projects, Roger developed a deep relationship with the plant kingdom based on love, care and respect. His main responsibility is aquaculture, but he also coordinates our seasonal workers, and is always eager to share his knowledge with them.
Balancing between research and practice, Adam is a psychologist, cognitive scientist and medical anthropologist integrating and uniting evidence-based science and traditional worldviews.
Born in the urban jungles of Mexico City, raised mostly in Israel and having lived in seven different countries, Adam naturally embodies interculturalism. Adam has studied traditional systems of medicine in Mexico, India and Peru, adopting a dialectical approach that integrates and unites evidence-based science and traditional worldviews. He has worked extensively in western psychiatric institutions and has spent time learning from a variety of indigenous and traditional healers around the world. Besides participating in a wide array of projects in the fields of permaculture, eco-building and community-based health in countries as varied as India, Belize or Peru, he is an active member of the “Medical Anthropology Research Center” (MARC), and the “Interdisciplinary Psychedelic Studies” (IPS) group, both in Catalunya, while sharing his experience facilitating transformational processes in a variety of psychedelic support and harm-reduction projects around the world, such as the Kosmicare Project in Portugal or the Zendo Project in the United States.
Senior Communications Advisor
With a passion for communicating with and about indigenous people and their issues, Zimbabwean-born and Africa-raised Debbie has been contributing her expertise to Chaikuni since its foundation.
Zimbabwean-born and Africa-raised Debbie has found the seemingly improbable: a fit for all of her passions to be satisfied in one place. Before arriving in Peru, these passions had flowed through her many professional incarnations which included studies in Psychology and Drama, designing HIV/AIDs and life-skills education programs, fundraising for large and small International Development agencies, investigative broadcast journalism and documentary-making to mention a few. A passion for communicating with and about indigenous people and their issues has been a strong thread running through these pursuits. She initially worked for a number of years as the videographer for Alianza Arkana travelling extensively in Peru to document their work with indigenous people involving land and people rights, waste management, youth empowerment and education projects. She then transitioned into her current role as as General Manager at Chaikuni’s sister organization The Temple of the Way of Light. Since then, she produced the feature documentary “Pastaza” for Chaikuni. Debbie brings great value through her experience in communications, fundraising and project design.
Founder and General Advisor
Matthew Watherston traveled to the Amazon at 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 in 2011 partnering with indigenous people to help them preserve their environment, rights and traditions. Then in 2013, he founded the Chaikuni Institute to focus more on permaculture, regenerative development and community based eco-social enterprises in the Loreto region. 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 successful career in business.
Matthew has now spent almost a decade in the Amazon and has a deep understanding of social and environmental issues in Peru as well as the complexities of Western culture blending with traditional indigenous ways of life in the rainforest.