Our Team

EARTHDIVERSE STAFF:

Executive Director:

Dr Todd Nachowitz, PhD, is the Founder and Executive Director of EarthDiverse. Todd is a Hamilton-based lecturer, anthropologist, environmentalist and diversity educator. He previously taught in Religious Studies at the University of Waikato, teaching courses on Comparative Religion and Religious Fundamentalism & Extremism. Todd holds a Masters Degree in Development Anthropology from Syracuse University in upstate New York (1991) and a PhD from the University of Waikato (2015) in Political Science and Public Policy where he completed his thesis on diversity governance and the Indian diaspora in New Zealand. Prior to settling in New Zealand in 1995, Todd lived and worked in the United States, India, Pakistan and Nepal. He spent 11 years in South Asia as the Academic Director for university study-abroad programmes in Varanasi, India (for the University of Wisconsin-Madison); Lahore, Pakistan (for the University of California-Berkeley); and Kathmandu, Nepal (for School for International Training, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA) focusing on language, culture and religion. Todd speaks Hindi and Urdu, and is a specialist in comparative world religions and the history, religions, languages and cultures of South Asia. He also currently teaches our Hindi and Urdu language courses and the Religious Diversity courses at EarthDiverse.

Todd

Director of Educational Programmes:

Nona Morris, MA, is a researcher and diversity educator for EarthDiverse. She has undergraduate degrees in Human Biology and Anthropology, and post-graduate degrees (MA) in Anthropology and Education. She has worked in the field of education for the last 30 years, working across all sectors from early childhood through university and adult mentoring, and has taught in a variety of fields including biology, ecology, social science, research methodology, and learning and assessment practice. She also teaches in the early childhood and primary school sectors. Prior to moving to New Zealand, Nona has lived, studied and worked in Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan, Nepal and the USA. She has experience in cross-cultural communication, facilitation, experiential education, service-based learning, and curriculum design and implementation.  Her passion for social and environmental justice and for working with youth has led to her involvement with various local community groups, including NZ Scouts, school parent groups, Playcentre, ethnic and arts groups, and ecological restoration projects. Nona comes from and lives in a multicultural family, is married, and is a mum to two talented Wellington-based university-aged sons. Nona currently runs our Teacher Training Professional Development programme in tandem with Amondi Ouko-Mowbray, and is a key member of our management team.

Director of Language Programmes:

Cristina Schumacher, MA, is a Brazilian linguist based in New Zealand and an expert in language learning and teaching, having completed her Masters Degree in Administration from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil in 1995. With 28 titles published since 1999, she is also a coach, translator, evaluator and consultant to large international companies. Her work is focused on language awareness and on how language knowledge can become a highly effective self-development tool. In addition to her native Portuguese and the knowledge of a range of other linguistic systems, Cristina is fluent in English, French, German and Spanish. As our Director of Language Programmes and key member of our organisational team, Cristina oversees the growth of our language offerings, sees to the needs of our language students, and is helping to design a standardised methodology and pedagogy for our language programme. She also teaches Portuguese for EarthDiverse.

Director of Communications & Marketing:

Helen K. Chang joined EarthDiverse in August 2021 as Director of Communications and Marketing. She brings nearly four decades of communications experience to her role at EarthDiverse, two of those decades in higher education at the top-ranked Stanford University Graduate School of Business where she is Acting Director of Communications and Media Relations until July, 2021. Her career spans 10 years in the hospitality industry where she led public relations for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) and San Jose CVB. Earlier in her career she reported traffic for a broadcast radio syndicate; and served as communications assistant for the social advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. Among her career highlights: she managed media relations for Stanford University professors Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson who won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Economics, and for then-business school dean Michael Spence who won in 2001; and she took part in the award-winning crisis communications campaign to woo tourists back to San Francisco in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. She received her bachelor’s degree, with honors, in mass communications from the University of California, Berkeley.  Her honors thesis was the first to examine why Asian American women succeed in television news and Asian American men do not.

Administrative Director & Community Connector:

Dr Leen Al-Hadban, PhD, is EarthDiverse’s Community Liaison and Administrative Director, responsible for building bridges with Aotearoa New Zealand’s diverse communities, and for helping EarthDiverse develop its administrative procedures and policies during its early growth period. Leen is originally from Iraq, and her mother tongue is Arabic. She came to New Zealand to do her PhD in English Literature and ended up staying in beautiful Aotearoa. Leen is passionate about women’s rights, education and comparative literature, and begins teaching EarthDiverse’s new Arabic Literature courses and Conversational Arabic beginning in 2021 Term 3.

Marketing & Publicity Specialist:

Pepa Torre comes from Andalucia, in the south of Spain, once the domain of Islam and referred to as Al-Andalus. She is the Former Chair of the Waikato Hispano Latino Cultural Trust for which she has put great effort in implementing the communication strategy to be able to reach more members and achieve their mission of connecting people on a greater scale. She holds a BA in Audiovisual Communication and an MA in Photography as well as minor titles in areas such as Business and Education. She created PTS Foto Fun back in 2008, a Photography/videography studio focused on finding the inner self of each individual, creating a comfortable environment where one could express emotions and feel unique. She won first place in a National Photography Award held by Hewlett Packard and delivered numerous art exhibitions mostly sown throughout Europe. Everything she does is meant to feed her passion and learn more about human behaviour, concentrating on the idea of “prejudice” and “what is the same and different at the same time,” stressing the positive side of diversity. Pepa has also been a Flamenco music and dance teacher and performer since 2016, the same year when she started teaching Spanish privately in a variety of contexts. Nowadays you can find her working at the Waikato Settlement Centre and you can hear her hosting a radio program on Free FM called “¿Quiénes somos?” (“Who are we?”), based on the stories of everyday people from her Hispanic and Latin communities. Pepa also currently teaches Spanish for EarthDiverse.

Web & Technical Support Specialist:

Hezekia Chege Mungai (Heze) is a self-taught front-end web developer who works with big or small organisations to design and develop user-friendly, accessible static as well as dynamic websites. After working in the hospitality industry, Hezekia knows that communication is vital. It is crucial to deliver the right message to the correct audience. With the current tools in the technology industry, a well-developed web application can achieve this goal. Hezekia started working in Kenya, his country of birth, as a tour leader. He was in charge of planning and executing different tailor-made itineraries for clients from all over the world. He has also worked at Hilton Hotel and FontSanta Hotel, both five-star hotels in Mallorca, Spain. He was in charge of various responsibilities from reservations, customer services, online community management to daily audits, as a shift leader. Hezekia has a passion for coding, but when not coding, mountain biking, camping, outdoor activities and cooking are what he likes. He is EarthDiverse’s new Web & Technical Support Specialist.

IT & Technical Support Specialist:

Nick Ludford worked many years in the creative and events industry, from traditional theatre and the performing arts to music festivals, band tours, Cirque and corporate events, both as a lighting designer and project manager. He’s travelled globally, and on returning to New Zealand opted to take up a quieter life in teaching computer skills and back to work programmes. Nick has a strong technical background in computing, with interests in smart LED technology, information security, Linux and Android development. He’s a big aviation fan too!

Accountant:

Frank Carter. Photo and bio coming soon.

Video Editor:

Lily McQueen, born in Hong Kong, and raised in Germany and New Zealand, has a passion for all things art! In her free time she enjoys making brownies and directing short films about important topics youth face in today’s day and age.

Video Editor:

Nawar Ibrahim, raised in New Zealand is one of EarthDiverse’s young staff. She has a passion for science, international cuisine and traveling. She is well traveled and dreams to see more of the world soon. She also loves tramping in New Zealand.

Video Editor:

Xanthe Lee is a recent University of Waikato graduate with a bachelor of engineering in materials and processing. She is a born and raised Hamiltonian and is currently working towards a masters in material engineering.

Communications and Marketing Intern

Adrienne Strassberg has recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science as well as a dual minor in Equity and Human Geography. She is now undertaking additional coursework at The Center for Mediation and Dialogue at Champlain College to support her work with the Environmental Mediation Center. Adrienne has now joined the EarthDiverse team as a communications and marketing intern. She is excited to contribute to EarthDiverse’s social media presence and expand the reach of courses.

More staff (e.g. Social Media and Website Development, Director of Finance, Director of Environmental Programmes) will be coming aboard in the very near future and will be announced shortly to help oversee EarthDiverse’s growth.

EARTHDIVERSE TRUST:

The EarthDiverse Trust was established in January 2020 to oversee the governance of EarthDiverse. Formal Charitable Organisation status was conferred by the Charities Services of the New Zealand government in September 2020. We’re still in the process of developing our Trust Board and will be adding new members soon. Our current Trustees are:

Dr Anna Casey-Cox, PhD

Ko Loobagh tōku awa
Ko Lydd tōku repo
Ko Heperi Kōtirana tōku moana
Ko Oko Horoi te whenua tupu
Ko Ngāti Hauā, ko Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura ngā kaitikai o tāua rohe
Kei Kirikiriroa ahau e noho ana ināianei
Ko Anna tōku ingoa.

Anna is a Pākehā New Zealander of Irish, English and Scottish descent. The Waikato has been Anna’s home for the majority of her life, growing up on a sheep and beef farm on the foothills of Maungakawa. Anna now lives in Kirikiriroa Hamilton with her partner Tim and they have three children. Starting out as a health promoter and evaluation researcher, Anna has spent the majority of her career in the NGO sector. She is a lead researcher for Poverty Action Waikato, an organiser for Living Wage Waikato and is on the Board of Living Wage Aotearoa and Te Ohu Whakaita. Anna is employed at Go Eco, formerly the Waikato Environment Centre, as a Learning and Development Lead and is the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Waikato Regional Environment (or ACRE). Concern for poverty and inequality encouraged Anna toward studies in Social Sciences and Social Enterprise at the University of Waikato. Anna completed her PhD in 2014, focusing on the importance of noticing privilege and social transformation. Anna is passionate about facilitating community voice, participation and action. “The Waikato has many stories that shape the realities of our people today. I’m passionate about how these stories inform our actions. My dream and motivation is for a connected, compassionate, resilient Waikato.”

Dr Gauri Nandedkar, PhD

Gauri completed her PhD in May 2017 at the University of Waikato. Her thesis explored the policy translation of Millennium Development Goal 3 (to promote gender equality and empower women) from a global aspiration into a locally-implemented life-skills education programme for adolescent girls in rural Maharashtra, India. Her work is interdisciplinary and contributes to critical policy studies, housing studies, and development studies. Gauri is currently a researcher in the Affordable Housing for Generations National Science Challenge Team at the University of Waikato. Her work focuses on discourse analysis, science and policy interface, and how the way we talk about issues potentially affects policy outcomes. Gauri worked with the National Science Challenge Team in its first phase in the component ‘The Architecture of Decision-Making,’ exploring how politicians speak about  the housing crisis, the most common narratives in the public arena, and what the effects and implications of public discourses are on housing policy. She is also a research associate in the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis (NIDEA) at the University of Waikato, researching trans-Tasman migration. This research project focuses on the aspirations and desires of New Zealanders working and living in Australia. Gauri is multi-lingual and has lived and worked in the United States, Germany and New Zealand for extensive periods.

Rahul Pandey, MPA

Rahul has worked in accounting and finance for over a decade, and has been part of multiple family ventures across the United States and India. His interests include finance, technology and psychology. In New Zealand, Rahul has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Professional Accounting from the University of Waikato. He has worked closely with EarthDiverse in the past before coming on Board as a Trustee in October 2021. He has also been closely involved with the Refugee Orientation Centre located in Frankton, Hamilton. As a lifelong learner and someone who is always keen to study something new, Rahul is a great fit here at EarthDiverse.

EARTHDIVERSE INSTRUCTORS:

EarthDiverse employs a wide-variety of course instructors from around the world with expertise in their respective fields. Meet them all here:

Ada Xiao

Being a Chinese by birth and Kiwi by choice, Ada knows China and New Zealand well. She immigrated from Beijing to Hamilton in 2012. During these ten years, Ada has worked mainly as an aircraft designer and then as a political candidate for the General Election 2020 and the Hamilton East Council by-election 2021. As a result, Ada has a good understanding of NZ society and NZ culture.

One important  thing that motivates Ada to be a Mandarin language teacher is that, in her previous working experience, she has seen so many people wanting to have some basic skills about Mandarin language, and some Chinese culture, for either personal interests, or business requirements.  While Ada was a political candidate, quite a few local people questioned to her about China, and Chinese people. In Ada’s opinion, this was due to lack of understanding and communication. Ada is grateful to be able to teach Mandarin language, and introduce Chinese culture through the EarthDiverse platform.

Adam Nachowitz, Junior Lecturer

Adam Nachowitz is a twenty-year-old student based in Wellington, and is delighted to be a part of our exciting new Junior Lecturer Series. Since birth, microbes have been a huge part of Adam’s life. Everywhere he went, microbes were there too. They were there for his first day of school, the day he lost his first tooth, the first time he drove a car. Most of these microbes are pretty useful guys, just doing their thing to keep our world clean and liveable. Others, however, gripped by an evil streak, determinedly set out to attack our immune systems. It was these microscopic nasties which most captured Adam’s imagination, and led him to him taking his studies to the next level with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, with majors in Molecular Pathology and Mathematics, as well as a Bachelor of Music, at Victoria University of Wellington. Adam is also a keen tramper, dancer, musician, and actor and enjoys cooking meals. His expansive volunteering experience in both environmental and social spheres, includes work as his high school environment captain, BLAKE Inspire, Duke of Edinburgh awards, and Amnesty International. As recognition for these efforts, Adam was awarded Volunteering Waikato’s special commendation for the 2019 Youth Volunteer of the Year. No matter how busy life gets, Adam will always stop for a chat about his cells and yours.

Dr Alistair Swale, PhD

Alistair currently teaches in the Japanese programme at the University of Canterbury – his research interests are modern Japanese history and animated  film.  His most recent book was entitled Anime Aesthetics:Japanese animation and the Post-Cinematic Imagination (Palgrave, 2015).

Amondi Ouko-Mowbray

Amondi Ouko-Mowbray teaches our Swahili language courses and our Teacher Training Professional Development seminars. She has lived in New Zealand for the last 14 years. Prior to coming to New Zealand she taught across multiple sectors in Kenya, including Education, Health and Agriculture, and continues to conduct research in the education, health and social change sectors.  She has decades of experience in cross-cultural communication and connectivity. She is a strong believer in social justice and diversity.  Since coming to New Zealand, she has worked as a volunteer in several organisations, including Girl Guides New Zealand and the Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust.  She is a university-trained early childhood educator with 10 years working experience, and lives in an intercultural family. She is also a trained interpreter and has supported refugees and migrants as they adjust to their new homes in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ana Tashkoff, MA

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā mātāwaka nō ngā hau e whā, nei rā te mihi!
Ko Hikurangi te maunga
Ko Waiapu te awa
Nō Ngāti Porou ahau

Ko Ana (Anna) Tashkoff tōku ingoa

Kia ora, e hoa mā!
My name is Ana, and I’ll be teaching the new Te Reo Māori course beginning in May 2022 in collaboration with EarthDiverse and GoEco. I would be honoured to paddle with you on our waka as you continue your reo Māori journey!

He waka eke noa

Anne Cao, MA

Anne is originally from Beijing. She has worked in a wide range of industries, particularly education, media, sport, and tourism. She has a master’s degree in International Business from Massey University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education Management from the University of Science & Technology, Beijing. With over 20 years of work experience in the education sector of both China and New Zealand, she has a good understanding of the languages and cultures. She was also a teacher in Beijing and taught Chinese for the local community previously in New Zealand. She loves New Zealand’s natural environment and started the New Zealand Cherry Blossom Festival with her husband, is passionate about multicultural New Zealand, manages a beautiful rural property and welcomes people from all over the world. She was a journalist in education in both New Zealand and China and is involved in the community and different community groups. Anne was also a professional basketball player at the age of 15 and a regional basketball representative in China and New Zealand. Among her many other civic pursuits, Anne is also a business consultant and is also teaching Mandarin Chinese for EarthDiverse.

Dr Ann McEwan, PhD

Ann studied art and architectural history at the University of Canterbury and lectured at the University of Waikato for ten years before establishing Heritage Consultancy Services in 2006. As a consultant she advises public and private sector clients on historic heritage matters. Ann has maintained her academic practice as an occasional Professional Teaching Fellow in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland (2015-16 & 2021) and has written several books on Waikato art and artists. In 2021 Ann will be introducing EarthDiverse courses on the history of New Zealand architecture and researching historic buildings.

Bao Hoang, PhD

My name is Bao Hoang. I am from Vietnam. I came to New Zealand in 2017 for my doctoral study at the University of Waikato. Given the unprecedented time in the last two years because of COVID-19 that have had an influence on many of us, I was lucky to be able to complete my doctoral journey in 2021. Before moving to New Zealand, I used work as a teacher of English at a university in Vietnam for more than 16 years. My experience with successful English language learners in Vietnam was actually an inspiration for my doctoral research topic on the conceptualisation of resilience in foreign language learning. I am currently working as an ELLA (English language learning assistant) at Knighton Normal School where I am supporting immigrant children with English so that they can catch up with academic activities in their classrooms. My experience in teaching translation at the university and working as a freelance translator in Vietnam has also recently given me the opportunity work as a tutor contributing to teaching the paper Reading and Translation for the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Waikato.

Benjamin Tobias, LLB, LLM

Benny teaches EarthDiverse’s Hebrew courses. He was born in Israel and was raised as a fluent Hebrew speaker at Kibbutz Kinneret, located near the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) in the Jordan Valley. He also served as a Captain in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Benny moved to New Zealand in 1982, becoming a New Zealand citizen in 1984. He graduated from the University of Waikato with an LLB degree in 1994 and an LLM in 2007. For many years he worked for the New Zealand Transport Agency, both in planning and in a legal capacity. Benny is now partly retired, keeping himself busy with Ellys Physio and teaching Hebrew in his spare time. He is married and has 3 children and 3 grandchildren, who reside in New Zealand, Israel and Italy.

Carola Arriagada

Carola was born and raised in Chile. She has been passionate about learning new skills since her first studies as a Computer Technician. She then earned a degree in Business Administration with a Marketing mention, completed a Post-Graduate diploma in Finance, and then spent five years running her own beauty therapy business. On arriving in New Zealand, she completed a Post-Graduate diploma in Events Management at Waikato Institute of Technology. She is currently employed by Wintec where she puts her many skills to work. Since the beginning of 2022 Carola has been teaching Spanish in a personalised individual class. she is excited to be joining EarthDiverse to continue her passion for helping others learn new skills.

Cristina Schumacher, MA

Cristina is a Brazilian linguist based in New Zealand and an expert in language learning and teaching. With 28 titles published since 1999, she is also a coach, translator, evaluator and consultant to large international companies. Her work is focused on language awareness and on how language knowledge can become a highly effective self-development tool. In addition to her native Portuguese and the knowledge of a range of other linguistic systems, Cristina is fluent in English, French, German and Spanish. She teaches the Portuguese language for EarthDiverse.

Dayana Carmona

Mi nombre es Dayana Carmona, soy de Bogotá la capital de Colombia, una gran ciudad llena de cultura y diversidad. Soy una Ingeniera mecánica apasionada por mi carrera y me encuentro en Nueva Zelanda haciendo realidad uno de mis sueños, estudiar un Ph.D.. Llevo tres años viviendo en este hermoso país cuya naturaleza me enamoró. Me encanta enseñar ya que considero que es la mejor manera de aprender y de crecer como persona y estaré más que feliz de enseñar mi lengua natal.

My name is Dayana Carmona, I am from Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, a great city full of culture and diversity. I am a mechanical engineer who is passionate about my career and I find myself in New Zealand fulfilling one of my dreams studying a Ph.D. I have been living in this beautiful country for three years, whose nature has made me fall in love. I love teaching as I consider it to be the best way to learn and grow as a person and I will be more than happy to teach my native language.

Dr Dennis Green, PhD

Dennis holds a PhD from the University of Waikato, and is a graduate of the Oxford Center for Postgraduate Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He lectured for 16 years for the University of Waikato’s Religious Studies Department. He has special interests in the Archaeology and Anthropology of the southern Levant, Iron Age Israelite history and the Second Temple Period of Jewish history. Apart from ongoing research, he is employed doing archaeological excavations in the greater Waikato area.

Esraa Abdelmaksoud

My name is Esraa. I was born and raised in Egypt, and I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmaceutical Studies. I worked as a pharmacist for many years in the Alexandria University Hospital before moving with my husband to Doha, Qatar. After eight years of living in Qatar, my family and I moved to New Zealand. I lived in Auckland for six months before settling in Hamilton. I have been in Hamilton for four years. I studied business in 2019 followed by a Health & Wellbeing course at Wintec in 2020.vI have participated in a Flourish leadership program for ethnic women for one year. I am currently doing a Diploma in Health and Community Support. I have volunteered with the Refugee Orientation Centre as an HR coordinator. I am currently teaching an Arabic course for non-Arabic-speaking children at RICC. I enjoy reading novels, walking, trying multicultural recipes, and travelling. I have been to Lebanon, Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. I have explored multiple regions in New Zealand with my family. In my spare time, I try to learn new languages. So far, I have studied basic French and Spanish conversational skills and I am now trying to pick up the Turkish language. I am excited to join the EarthDiverse team and I am looking forward to sharing Arabic language and culture.

Ganga Sudhan, MEd

Ganga teaches our Tamil language courses along with Halimah. Ganga has decades of experience in education and has worked with individuals from all walks of life and across a broad range of age-groups to achieve specific learning outcomes. The common thread of all these professional experiences – as well as his career aspirations, in general – has been the empowerment of others to achieve their goals. He is a native speaker of English from Singapore who is bilingual in his ethnic language of Tamil (தமிழ்).

Dr Geoff Lealand, PhD

Geoff Lealand was an Associate Professor in Screen and Media Studies (formerly Film & Television Studies) at the University of Waikato from 1992 to 2017.  He taught a World Cinema course there, as well as undergraduate/graduate courses on Media Studies, Television Studies, Children and Media, Research Methods and writing. Since retiring (a word he dislikes), he regularly volunteers for conservation ventures such as Seeley Gully and Friends of Waiwhakareke, works on his own large garden, writes and publishes on film and social history, does research for NZ On Air,  and maintains his website Cinemas of New Zealand <https://cinemasofnz.info> (est. 2010).  He is the current president of the Hamilton Film Society and plays a part in local film-making (see The Reel People of New Zealand, and Costa Botes’ forthcoming doco When The Cows Come Home).

George Lusty, MA, Dip Ed

George is a Hamilton environmentalist currently helping to restore the Mangaonua Esplanade in Silverdale, Hamilton.  George previously worked as a programme manager at Wintec teaching environmental, communication and cultural studies.  George was born in Kirikiriroa and grew up in Ōtorohanga and has retained his lifelong passion for the environment and the outdoors.  He has been involved in practical forest restoration work for over 20 years.

Grace Aislabie, Junior Lecturer

Grace is a third year student at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, working towards a double degree in Law and Arts, majoring in Spanish and Linguistics. Grace has studied Spanish all through High School, travelled to Argentina in 2019 and has continued her fascination with Latin America through her university studies in Spanish Language and Culture as well as through her Spanish conversation group. Grace is looking towards getting back to South America, hopefully to be able to give to the community through volunteering or teaching, to put her Spanish into use and to experience more of the culture. Additionally, she plans to develop a career in international law, in the areas of environmental and social justice.  In her spare time, Grace enjoys cross-stitch, reading novels, baking, and her part-time work at a gelato shop.

Halimah Ilavarasi, MEd

Halimah teaches our Tamil language courses along with Ganga. She has over ten years of wide-ranging teaching experience in various educational settings. She is a Singapore-trained and New Zealand registered teacher who has supported children, young people and adults in furthering their education. Halimah is a passionate advocate of giving back to the community and supporting learners in meeting their educational outcomes. She is a native speaker of English who is bilingual in her ethnic language of Tamil (தமிழ்).

Hein Laaper

I was born in Utrecht, Netherlands, but have lived most of my life in New Zealand. I graduated from the University of Waikato, also completing my Diploma of Teaching, after which I studied for one year at the University of Gõttingen, Germany, and later completing different courses in Tokyo and Osaka. I am presently a registered NZ teacher having taught for over 40 years in the NZ Secondary School System, mainly Japanese and German. Over the years I have also been involved in the Continuing Education programme in Hamilton in German and Dutch. My interests are travelling, gardening, architecture and good food.

Hidekazu Oka, Junior Lecturer

Hidekazu Oka is a 24 year old originally born in Tokyo, Japan. Before he settled in New Zealand seven years ago, he lived in Singapore for two years, and Taiwan for five years. Hidekazu is currently a third year student at the University of Waikato, double-majoring in Mandarin and Mathematics as well as being a Mandarin class representative in his second year. At the moment, Hidekazu is planning to develop a career teaching Japanese and Mathematics at the secondary school level. In his spare time, Hidekazu enjoys watching motorcycle vlogs, while dreaming to own his own motorcycle again, as well as enjoying authentic Chinese foods.

Ifat Vayner-Itzkovitch

Shalom! שלום ! My name is Ifat Vayner-Itzkovitch, and I have been living in New Zealand for the past few years. I’m a Puppeteer and a Hebrew teacher, a mother of two amazing kids: Hadas and Tal and a wife to Gilad. Born and raised in Israel, I completed my B.A. in the Department of Theatre and Literature at Tel-Aviv University and graduated from the “Holon Puppet Theatre School” as a master puppeteer and also completed the training program ‘Puppet Theater as a Therapeutic Tool’. I worked as a puppeteer at the “Holon Puppetry Center”, gave tours of the Puppet Theater Museum of Art and taught adult puppetry courses at the Puppet Theater Art School. I taught puppet theater at Alona Elementary School in Amikam for four years for ages 7-12 and also taught groups and individuals, children, and adults, in various activities through puppet theater in informal or therapeutic settings.

For the past two years I have been teaching Hebrew on-line with IVRIE-LI Language School and meeting people from all over the world that are interested in keeping Hebrew alive. I really like to teach and share my knowledge, travel the world, and play with puppets to create communication, touch emotions, and create humor and laughter together with my students. My favourite word in Hebrew is אהבה (love). Let’s find out what your favourite word is!

Jeroen (Jay) van der Most, MA

Jeroen (Jay) van der Most holds a Masters degree in Sovietology from the University of Amsterdam. He has worked for many years in Human Resources and Recruitment in his home country The Netherlands, UK and here in New Zealand. He currently works as Employment Consultant for a not-for-profit organisation to help people with a wide range of barriers into meaningful work. With a great interest in languages and culture, Jay has filled his spare time with, among many other things, writing a column about dealing with the Dutch for a Dutch expat magazine, tutoring English as a Second Language and volunteering in the tourism industry. Jay currently teaches EarthDiverse’s Dutch language courses.

Jillene Bydder

Jillene Bydder’s long-term interest is in spy thrillers and what they can tell us about ourselves. An academic research librarian, she has read many thrillers unavailable in New Zealand during study periods spent at the British Library in London. She has walked the line marking the path of the Berlin Wall, crossed the Bridge of Spies, and visited Russia multiple times. She has been to Siberia and seen the bullet holes in the building used as the headquarters of the White Army during the Russian Revolution and to Stalin’s birthplace in Georgia. She has visited the island in the Baltic Sea from which British agents were infiltrated into the Soviet Union. She has presented many papers to international conferences and spends much time in second-hand bookshops here and overseas adding to her own collection of thrillers.

Kikey Mendoza

Kikey Mendoza is a well-being worker. She comes from Mexico and is passionate about the Spanish language. She’s very involved with communities and likes to support all initiatives that aim at sharing cultural knowledge and promoting diversity. She works at ALAC, Aotearoa Latin American Community.

Dr Leen Al-Hadban, PhD

Leen is originally from Iraq, and her mother tongue is Arabic. She came to New Zealand to do her PhD in English Literature and ended up staying in beautiful Aotearoa. Leen is passionate about women’s rights, education and comparative literature, she enjoys working with learners and assisting them in their learning. She also works with Arab refugees and migrants as an interpreter/translator. She considers language diversity a significant bridge connecting people from different ethnicities and views literature and education as important tools in the fight against racism, and the progression of women’s rights. Leen teaches our Arabic Literature course for EarthDiverse and has been teaching our Conversational Arabic 300 courses since 2021 Term 3. When Leen is not interpreting for the Arab community in Hamilton or administrating and teach for EarthDiverse, there is a good chance that she is hiding somewhere with a book, or getting her hands dirty doing pottery!

Machima (Mac) Aksonnit, Junior Lecturer

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Mac has now been living in Hamilton for the past 12 years. He has studied multiple languages such as French, Mandarin and Korean and is fluent in English and Thai. He has taught Thai to family friends and has greatly enjoyed giving lessons, which has encouraged him to join EarthDiverse. Promoting language and cultural diversity, Mac was a former Cultural Captain in his senior year of high school and won the Ingkan Award in 2015.  Now currently working as a Laboratory technician, he has a background in Microbiology, as well as culinary arts, and enjoys reading about languages and experimenting cooking various cuisines.

Dr Mahmood Arif, MSc, MBBCH

Dr Mahmood Arif has been a specialist dermatologist for over 30 years. He has continued in this profession as he is passionate about helping people overcome their medical challenges and takes joy in seeing people progress through their journeys. He has worked in both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior (Police Medical Services) as part of his role, which has enhanced his communication skills with people from all backgrounds. Apart from work, he enjoys sports (particularly tennis, swimming, and jogging). Mahmood is also very family-oriented and takes pride in having raised 6 children and is a grandfather to 5. Ever since retiring and moving to New Zealand he has taken this time to give back to the community. He currently volunteers at Diversity Counseling New Zealand as an Ethnic Advisor as well as a Multilingual Facilitator at the Department of Ethnic Communities. In addition, he has been working for Decypher as an Arabic Interpreter. Offering his experience through these platforms has been very enjoyable and interesting. Mahmood joins the EarthDiverse team as one of our three Arabic instructors.

Mayssaa Sheik Al Ard, MA

Mayssaa Sheik Al Ard, our Introductory Arabic instructor, was born to a Syrian father and Egyptian mother and raised in the UAE. She is married to an Iraqi husband and currently lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. Mayssa grew up in a very diverse environment, which gave her the privilege to understand other cultures. This allowed her to be more open minded to the differences of people. A mother of six children and grandmother of five, Mayssaa graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in Science, and began her career as a Laboratory technician in the UAE. After relocating to New Zealand in 1997, she completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Science at the University of Auckland. Her career path changed in 2009, when she decided to complete a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, followed by a Master in life coaching. In 2014, Mayssaa’s life underwent a transformation sparked after working with refugees in Jordan. Her passion to support refugees continued after she settled in Hamilton in 2016. With the first Syrian refugee families arriving, she took on the added responsibility of establishing a weekend school to teach these children their mother tongue, Arabic. The school is now in its 5th year with increasing numbers of students. Mayssaa continued supporting refugee families by working as an Arabic cross-cultural case worker with the Red Cross in 2017. She reinforced her skills with certifications and courses, such as the “Flourish leadership program for ethnic women” in 2019, and the “Leadership course for empowering Syrian women” in 2020 which aims to prepare Syrian women in the rebuilding of a new Syria. More recently, Mayssaa also launched a new project which targets the Arab community in Waikato, in an attempt to unite them in a safe space for networking and support. This has made her the founder and Chairwoman of the Waikato Arab Social Club.

Meg Barlow-Rolleston, Junior Lecturer

Meg Barlow-Rolleston is a sixteen-year-old of Māori and Irish descent, who is extremely passionate about her Māori background and hopes to grow her culture through the opportunity of being one of EarthDiverse’s Junior Lecturers.  From a young age, Meg has always found art to be an outlet and, through the incorporation of her art and culture, has been able to retain knowledge in her kete matauranga and produce meaningful and intricate toi that display thoughts, feelings, connections, and Māoritanga.  Meg attended kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and is in wharekura currently; hence, she is a fluent speaker of Te Reo Māori.  Meg has taken art classes throughout her schooling and has plenty of knowledge on Māori designs and art that she would love to share.  Meg has been a Kapa Haka tutor and has been involved in Māori performing arts.  She also won a regional art competition for the health sector incorporating Māori designs and values. Meg is looking forward to sharing the richness and depth of the Māori world through visual arts and enriching your life as an inhabitant of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Michael Burton-Smith, Junior Lecturer

Michael Burton Smith is a nineteen year old student based in New Zealand’s windy capital city and our first instructor in our new Youth Lecturer Series. Since the age of six, Michael has been captivated by everything bird. It is a passion which has taken him across the country, and brought him up close and personal with our diverse, extraordinary, and increasingly threatened feathered friends. Understanding birds for Michael has always been more than just understanding a living organism. Michael’s other love is history and this passion has led him to explore how humankind’s journey over the past few millennia has been inextricably tied to the masters of the skies, and how our relationship with birds has changed for the better or the worse with new discoveries, technologies, and political regimes. Currently in his second year at Victoria University of Wellington, Michael has embraced the challenge of a quadruple major in political science, history, international relations, and ecology. Despite his youth, Michael has significant experience in community leadership and volunteerism, including policy advising for Forest & Bird Youth, partnerships manager for the Victoria Student Volunteer Army, University Hall President, and secondary school Deputy Head Boy. In spite of these commitments, however, Michael can still be found at the nearest bird hotspot whenever the weather permits, as there is no such thing as too busy for a birding outing!

Dr Mike Roberts, PhD

Mike Roberts began his love affair with Japan and its language and culture in 1969 when he went there to serve as a missionary for two years. On his return from Japan he returned to the University of Auckland where he completed his BA and MA. His first full-time teaching role was at Auckland Grammar School in 1976, teaching Japanese language, mathematics, accounting and economics. He moved to the Department of Japanese (later Department of East Asian Studies) at the University of Waikato in 1985. He completed his PhD in Japanese at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2000, with a research focus on Japanese linguistics and language pedagogy. In 2002 he was appointed Academic Vice President of AIS St Helens, a private degree college in Auckland, retiring in 2014. He has been very active in interfaith work, being the inaugural president of both the Waikato Interfaith Council (2001) and the Auckland Interfaith Council (2003). He and Christine have been happily married for 51 years and have 3 children and 11 grandchildren.

Dr Norman Franke, PhD

Norman is a Hamilton-based poet, scholar, artist and film maker (MA, Hamburg University; Ph.D. Humboldt University, Berlin). He has published widely about 18th century literature, German-speaking exile literature (Albert Einstein, Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Else Lasker-Schüler, Karl Wolfskehl) eco-poetics and at the intersection of religion and poetry. Norman’s poetry has been broadcast on radio and published in anthologies in Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. He was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato for 22 years before his department was disestablished. He is currently a Conjoint Senior Lecturer & Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. He also teaches the “Grand Narratives and Mythologies in the Western Traditions” and the “Introduction to European Art and Architecture” courses and convenes our new Philosophy discussion group ʻThe Big Questions” for EarthDiverse. Norman will also begin teaching our German language programme beginning in 2021 Term 3.

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Pepa Torre, MA

Pepa comes from Andalucia, in the south of Spain, once the domain of Islam and referred to as Al-Andalus. She is the Chair of the Waikato Hispano Latino Cultural Trust for which she has put great effort in implementing the communication strategy to be able to reach more members and achieve their mission of connecting people on a greater scale. She holds a BA in Audiovisual Communication and an MA in Photography as well as minor titles in areas such as Business and Education. She created PTS Foto Fun back in 2008, a Photography/videography studio focused on finding the inner self of each individual, creating a comfortable environment where one could express emotions and feel unique. She won first place in a National Photography Award held by Hewlett Packard and delivered numerous art exhibitions mostly sown throughout Europe. Everything she does is meant to feed her passion and learn more about human behaviour, concentrating on the idea of “prejudice” and “what is the same and different at the same time,” stressing the positive side of diversity. Pepa has also been a Flamenco music and dance teacher and performer since 2016, the same year when she started teaching Spanish privately in a variety of contexts. Nowadays you can find her working at the Waikato Settlement Centre and you can hear her hosting a radio program on Free FM called “¿Quiénes somos?” (“Who are we?”), based on the stories of everyday people from her Hispanic and Latin communities. Pepa also currently teaches Spanish for EarthDiverse.

Peter Dornauf, MA, Dip Tchg

Peter has taught in secondary schools, Wintec and Waikato University collectively for over 25 years. He is a well known Waikato artist, art critic and a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He currently teaches course for EarthDiverse in the fields of Art & Architecture, History and Philosophy. His book Days of Our Deaths serves as the basis for his “A Cultural History of Death” course, which is also offered in Term 3 this year. Peter also teaches “The Spiritual in Modern Art” course, an “Introduction  to Western Philosophy,” and his newest course, “Understanding the Classical World and its Impact on Modern Life” is offered in Term 3.

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Richard Cain, MA

Richard Cain has taught History and Classics in the Waikato for several decades. He has a keen interest in understanding the historical forces and trends that shape the present. He is also a student of geopolitics in the modern world. Richard will begin teaching a course entitled “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the History of the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearoa/New Zealand” in our new History programme beginning in Term 3 (August 2021).

Dr Saadia Arif

Dr Saadia Arif, our new Urdu language instructor, is originally from Pakistan and Urdu is her mother tongue. She was born in and spent her early years in Saudi Arabia, and is fluent in both Urdu & English. She is a Medical Doctor by profession with a. specialty in Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Before migrating to New Zealand in 2016 with her family, she also worked in the UK. Saadia is now happily settled and raising two amazing boys in Hamilton. She has volunteered for the Red Cross since 2016, which gives her an opportunity to help and connect with the local community. She is currently studying to complete her post-graduation degree. Saadia enjoys pottery, photography, painting and exploring the beautiful outdoor of Aotearoa. Her love for for traveling took her to discover Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, South Africa, Dubai, India, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Experiencing the diverse, rich cultures and meeting amazing people are among her most treasured memories.

Shifra Gassner, MS Science Education

For the last five years, Shifra has been teaching a class called Earth Space Science to high school students in Iowa, USA. During this time she has honed in on what exactly a person needs in order to understand what is happening in the world right now in terms of global climate change. Many adults have asked about the subject matter she teaches. Only recently has Earth science been taught at a high school level and a person may or may not have taken an Earth science class while at University. What Shifra teaches is what a lot of people missed along the way during their formal education years. She feels strongly that with knowledge comes power and the motivation to act. She has taught many different levels and subjects over the past 20 years. She loves teaching science, especially the nature and process of science. and loves nature. She spends a lot of her time outdoors painting landscapes whenever she can.

Taine Blake, Heritage Spanish

Hola, soy Taine. Yo tengo 24 años y soy neozelandés. Yo soy estudiante de la universidad de Waikato y estudio el español y la lingüística. Me crié acá en Hamilton pero viajé a muchos diferentes países antes de la época de COVID. Me encanta viajar, jugar fútbol, aprender sobre idiomas y culturas y por claro me encanta el español. Después de estudiar para mi carrera quiero trabajar y vivir en muchos diferentes países y quiero conocer más de Latinoamérica. El español ha cambiado mi vida y es una bendición tener la oportunidad de compartir este idioma hermoso con ustedes.

Taine! I’m 24 years old and I’m a New Zealander. I am a student at Waikato University and study Spanish and linguistics. I grew up here in Hamilton but traveled to many different countries before the time of COVID. I love traveling, playing football, learning about languages and cultures and of course I love Spanish. After studying for my career I want to work and live in many different countries and I want to know more about Latin America. Spanish has changed my life and it is a blessing to have the opportunity to share this beautiful language with you.

Dr Todd Nachowitz, PhD

Todd is the Founder and Executive Director of EarthDiverse. He previously taught in Religious Studies at the University of Waikato, teaching courses on Comparative Religion and Religious Fundamentalism & Extremism. Todd holds a Masters Degree in Development Anthropology from Syracuse University in upstate New York (1991) and a PhD from the University of Waikato (2015) in Political Science and Public Policy where he completed his thesis on diversity governance and the Indian diaspora in New Zealand. Prior to settling in New Zealand in 1995, Todd lived and worked in the United States, India, Pakistan and Nepal. He spent 11 years in South Asia as the Academic Director for university study-abroad programmes in Varanasi, India (for the University of Wisconsin-Madison); Lahore, Pakistan (for the University of California-Berkeley); and Kathmandu, Nepal (for School for International Training, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA) focusing on language, culture and religion. Todd speaks Hindi and Urdu, and is a specialist in comparative world religions and the history, religions, languages and cultures of South Asia. He also currently teaches our Hindi and Urdu language courses and the Religious Diversity courses at EarthDiverse.

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Yecenia Atencio

Mi nombre es Yecenia Atencio, soy de Colombia un hermoso pais de Sudamerica, hace un año vivo en Nueva Zelanda, llegue aqui despues de recorrer un largo camino de altos y bajos, pero en Nueva Zelanda he encontrado un hogar apacible y hermoso donde iniciar una nueva vida junto a mi familia. En mi país estudié Ingeniería de Sistemas y profesional inmobiliario, también amo los idiomas, estudie Italiano, gramática del Español y ahora estudio Inglés. En este país he descubierto una gran pasión por el trabajo social y el apoyo a la comunidad y estoy feliz de poder prestar mis conocimientos enseñando mi idioma natal Español, lengua que amo y respeto mucho. Me encanta viajar, escuchar música y bailar, pero lo que más disfruto son los paseos familiares y compartir tiempo con la familia.

My name is Yecenia Atencio, I am from Colombia, a beautiful country in South America. I came to live in New Zealand a year ago. I arrived here after going through many ups and downs, but in New Zealand I have found a peaceful and beautiful home where I can start a new life together with my family. In my country I studied Systems Engineering. I’m also a real estate professional, I also love languages, study Italian, Spanish grammar and now study English. In this country I have discovered a great passion for social work and community support and I am happy to be able to lend my knowledge by teaching my native language Spanish, a language I love and respect very much. I love traveling, listening to music and dancing, but what I enjoy most are family walks and sharing time with family.

Yurika Arai, M Phil

Yurika Arai is our Japanese instructor. She was born in Japan and has been living in Hamilton for nearly 30 years. She has both an M Phil (English) and a Masters Degree in Professional Studies. She taught Japanese at the University of Waikato for 15 years and currently works as an early childhood education teacher and a freelance translator. In 2022 Term 1 Yurika will also be teaching our new course in World Cinema on Japanese Anime.