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.
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.
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.
Frank Carter. Photo and bio coming soon.
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.
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. If you are interested in applying to be a member of our Trust Board team and helping to shape the future of EarthDiverse, please get in touch with us via our Contact page as soon as possible.
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.”
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.
Dr Sujani Thrikawala, PhD, CPA
Sujani was born and grew up in Sri Lanka. She moved to New Zealand in December 2011 to pursue her doctoral studies and currently is working at Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec), Te Pūkenga, as a Principle Academic Staff Member (PASM). She completed her PhD in 2016 at the University of Waikato, focusing on the corporate governance and financial performance of microfinance institutes in developing markets. Sujani had several years of experience in lecturing before moving to Wintec. She worked as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka for more than 14 years. Sujani has published refereed journal articles in A-ranked journals including Finance Research Letters, International Review of Financial Analysis, Journal of Evolutionary Economics and review journal papers in top-ranked journals. In Google Scholar, her research has been cited more than 460 times. Sujani is the 6th-place author within New Zealand in the topic related to “Firm; Bribes; Anti-corruption Measures” according to the Elsevier SciVal. She conducts research mainly on issues related to corporate governance, microfinance, gender diversity, innovation, corruption, environmental disclosures, and financing of marginalised firms; and asserts the importance of empowering women around the world to facilitate the development of female-owned firms by amplifying their financial empowerment. Sujani is passionate about facilitating community by building the well-being of minority groups as it ultimately contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in New Zealand. She is pleased to join the EarthDiverse Trust Board as its newest member and looks forward to contributing to EarthDiverse’s continued growth.
EarthDiverse employs a wide-variety of course instructors from around the world with expertise in their respective fields. Meet them all here:
Amy Yang, Mandarin Instructor
Amy, originally from the birthplace of Confucius and Mencius in Shandong, China, has been settled in New Zealand for over nine years. Married to a New Zealander, she is the proud mother of two teenagers and currently works as a Property Right Analyst. Amy has a passion for travel and international cuisine. During her college years, she chose to major in Tourism and Hotel Management. After graduating, she entered a five-star hotel and later opened her own bar. At the same time, she began helping people from different countries who came to China for work or tourism to learn Chinese, marking the beginning of her initial Chinese language teaching career. Becoming a mother made Amy acutely aware of the challenges and contradictions faced by children from cross-cultural families in learning English and Chinese. This realization prompted her to pursue professional studies in English education and teaching Chinese as a foreign language, earning her a degree in the field. Having worked in various private enterprises and government departments, Amy brings rich customer service awareness and extensive market sales experience to her role as a Property Right Analyst. Amy has also dedicated four years to part-time teaching as a Mandarin instructor, with students spanning different countries, industries, and proficiency levels from basic to advanced business Chinese. Amy’s teaching methods, characterized by flexibility and alignment with students’ practical needs, have garnered praise and recognition from her students. Amy enjoys cooking and hiking. During the weekends, she takes her family to nearby trails for hikes, and during holidays, she embarks on longer-distance hiking adventures. Her strong background in multilingualism, cultural understanding, and education make her a valuable asset to our team.
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.
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, Arabic Instructor
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).
Grace Aislabie, Junior Lecturer
Grace is a 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.
Hein Laaper, Dutch & German
Hidekazu Oka, Japanese Instructor
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, Puppeteer Extraordinaire!
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, Dutch
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’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, Spanish
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, Thai Instructor
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.
Marwa Khallaf, Arabic Instructor
Marwa is our newest Arabic instructor. She was born and raised in Egypt and Arabic is her mother tongue. She moved to New Zealand a few years ago and is currently married and has children. She has a passion for science, cooking, traveling, and learning new languages. She welcomes you to study Arabic with her!
Matt Ferri, Japanese Instructor
Born to a Kiwi father and a Samoan mother, Matt Ferri is something of a cookies-and-cream milkshake. It explains why his childhood was divided between two rather distinctly-sized islands, and, more importantly, why cookies and cream is his favourite flavour. At some stage he grew up, got a degree, and moved to a third island, Japan, where he spent five years teaching English and studying Japanese. His BA in English has a ‘First Class Honours’ suffix, which may have helped him get there; and his Diploma in Creative Writing has also proven invaluable – as filler content for his CV. Back in Hamilton now, Matt tutors NCEA English and proofreads university reports. And now and then he ponders, as he reflects on those three islands, how the phrase ‘home is where the heart is’ applies if your heart feels split.
Michael Burton-Smith, Junior Lecturer
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 also teaches our German language programme from time to time/
Pepa Torre, MA, Spanish
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.
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.
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.
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.