Originally from the United States, Ruth Metzel, AEP Program Director, first came to Panama in 2009 while completing her undergraduate studies in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. She completed much of the research for her thesis From Finca to Forest: Forest Cover Change and Land Use Management in Los Santos, Panama, in Azuero, learning the ways of the Peninsula and solidifying her commitment to environmental sustainably. She has been hooked ever since and in the fall of 2010 Ruth officially joined AEP to lead its programmatic initiatives on the ground in Pedasi. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the organization’s mission is clear in all she has accomplished in the past year and half, with much more on the horizon.
“I am continually inspired by the willingness and openness with which people volunteer their time and actively seek to innovate,” Ruth said, adding that “it is this type of spirit here in Azuero that makes me feel like our environmental efforts will be multiplied and replicated, and gives me enormous hope for the future of AEP and the community.”
With a keen eye towards lasting partnerships, Ruth has designed and implemented innovative outreach programs which have already brought the local community closer to its expatriate counterparts. This includes her contributions to the development of the Azuero Resource Center, the AEP in-school educational initiative, and the AEP Guest Expert Lecture Series – a free, monthly event open to the public, among others. It is her hope that AEP will continue to serve as a powerful force for integration in the community to bring people together to think about practical solutions to environmental challenges.
“What fascinates me about the Azuero is that it is an international context where residents, foreigners and Panamanians alike, really do have the resources to live more sustainably should they decide that it is in their best interest; and so you gain the sense that there is hope for escalating and momentous change.”
Ruth is constantly observing and evaluating the effectiveness of environmental initiatives throughout the region and world. She uses these examples to improve her own work in Pedasi.
Her experiences have already begun to inform her understanding of the strengthens and challenges of working for a small NGO, as well as her understanding of successful strategies for tropical reforestation and what role reforestation plays in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Ruth has expressed that seeing the recycling tanks in Pedasi fill up each week with bags of cans and bottles stored and washed in local homes; hearing residents report monkey sightings and inviting her to their properties to see them; and listening to stories from teachers regarding all their students have learned in AEP educational programs and how they have shared this information in their communities, are among some of the best rewards of her efforts.
In her free time, Ruth can be found exploring the beauty of the Azuero Peninsula, its people, its culture, and especially its music, to which she loves to dance! For more information about Ruth, visit Who We Are.