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About VESA

VESA’s humanitarian and conservation projects aim to provide direct action support to communities in parts of the world overlooked by traditional charities and aid organisations.

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Travel Info

From the minute you book your trip we provide you with everything you need to know, so you get the most out of your VESA experience. 

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About VESA

Meet the VESA Team

Our staff are experienced travellers passionate about change. With years of knowledge under their belts, the VESA team are here to support you in being your own independent traveller.

Executive Team

Shona Luciani

Director of International Programs

Shona originally hails from a small town on the border of Ontario/Quebec, Canada. A traveller since a young age, after graduating in 2000 from Algonquin College in Ottawa Canada, she traveled for several years before settling in Sydney, Australia. In the past 18 years she has spent time working in the travel industry, with other volunteer organizations and travelling to over 60 different countries.

In 2009 Shona co-founded VESA, and acts as VESA’s  Director of International Programs. This sees her setting up our volunteer projects, meeting with village chiefs and local NGO’s and making sure that our participants have the experience of their lives when they choose to travel on a VESA program. When not on the road, Shona enjoys relaxing on the beach with a good book and hanging with her rescue dogs.

Thomas Constable-McDowell

Managing Director

Tom was born and raised in Sydney, Australia and travelled extensively as a child. Having caught the travel bug at an early age he set off for an epic three year journey with the main aim of circumnavigating the globe while always remaining in summer. This landed him sometimes knee deep in snow with only a pair of thongs and a t-shirt as protection.

Tom’s adventures have taken him to many out of the way places in South America, Africa, Asia, India and Europe. This led him to trek the Darien Gap where no man usually ventures, deciding that staying in the slums of Nairobi while waiting for a visa to come through was a good idea and cruising the West Indies in a 30 foot yacht during a hurricane.

Having witnessed firsthand so many beautiful but disadvantaged places in the world Tom founded VESA in 2009 the main aim of which was to take direct action to improve the lives of some of the many wonderful people he had met along the way. You may meet Tom on your VESA program as he is actively involved in all our volunteer work with an active interest in the construction side of our projects.

Virginia Constable

Participant Coordinator – Office Manager

Virginia was born and raised in Sydney, Australia.

Having caught the travel bug at an early age she has journeyed to many corners of the world. Some of the highlights have been trekking to visit the mountain gorillas in Rwanda which she describes as “an awe inspiring experience”, “conquering” the Inca Trail in South America as well as recently walking the Camino del Santiago in Northern Spain.

Virginia has been with VESA since 2009 including helping to prepare for the inaugural program in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Virginia is happy to answer your questions and concerns regarding the programs as the Participant Coordinator.

In her free time she loves being with her three energetic sons, playing tennis or being immersed in a good novel.

Diane Lalonde

Participant Coordinator - North America and Europe

Diane is a graduate of St. Lawrence College-Business Administration and spent most of her leisure time hiking the Rocky Mountains with her dogs enjoying the beautiful scenery while dodging bears and cougars. Now enjoying a quieter life closer to family, her motto is ‘Keep it simple’.

Kayla Belk

Conference Coordinator

Kayla attended The University of North Carolina Wilmington, majoring in Communication Studies and Psychology as well studying abroad in Australia. After her first ever flight at twenty, Kayla at only twenty three years of age, can’t count the number of flights she’s now been on. Kayla loved volunteering locally within North Carolina, but only learned how truly rewarding international work is within the past few years. Aside from volunteering, her current passion is learning the Spanish language and experiencing Latin cultures.

Project Leaders

Amazonas Explored 2019

Team leaders

L-R: Ashley, Xavier, Maria Jose

Laos Elephants Encountered 2019

Team leaders

L-R: Meg, Noah, Liz, Tom

Fiji Islands Discovered 2019

Team leaders

L-R: Brady, Sophie, President’s Guard, Kelsey, Benji

Africa Unearthed 2019

Team leaders

L-R: Damaris, Zine, Andrew, Frankie, Jake, Cassie

Road to Mozambique 2019

Team leaders

L-R: Julio, Cassie, Nelson

The VESA Team

Benjamin Leach

Fiji Islands Discovered team 2019

Benji was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia and completed a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in banking and finance at the University of Notre Dame. Ben has completed both our Fiji Islands program in 2015 and the Southeast Asia program in 2016. Ben has a skydive and parachute license and has undertaken twenty-five solo jumps. He believes strongly in living a waste free and minimalist life.Ben has coordinated our construction projects in both Laos and Fiji. His considerable experience and warm and friendly personality will be welcomed by our 2019 Fiji volunteers.

Sophie Shackleton

Fiji Islands Discovered team 2019

Sophie, originally born in Canada, graduated from Victoria University in New Zealand after studying Marine Biology, Criminology and Psychology. Sophie is happiest outdoors, whether its hiking, scuba diving or sky diving! Her first trip with VESA was in 2016 to Fiji, where volunteering with both the people and turtles changed her outlook on life. Sophie returned to Laos in 2017 as our Elephant conservation project coordinator. She’ll be returning to Fiji in 2019 bringing her considerable experience to our village construction projects.

Brady Hotham

Fiji Islands Discovered team 2019

Brady was born and raised in Papamoa, New Zealand and has a strong passion for the environment and animals. He completed a diploma in marine studies at Toi – Ohomai Institute of Technology and volunteered on VESA’s Africa project in 2018. Brady loves music, scuba diving and sunshine and is looking forward to being a project leader in Fiji.

Kelsey Marshall

Fiji Islands Discovered team 2019

Kelsey was born and raised in Arlington, Texas in the USA and studied elementary special education at Kansas State University. In 2018 she was a volunteer on the South Africa program with VESA. Kelsey will be joining the VESA team in Fiji in 2019 bringing her teaching skills as our education team leader. Kelsey enjoys teaching yoga and dance to adults with special needs.

Francesca Codd

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Frankie was born in the UK but has lived in Melbourne Australia for most of her life. Since volunteering with VESA in Fiji in 2015, Frankie has travelled, worked and studied across Europe, Australia, the UK and North America. She graduated from Monash University in 2018. She is excited to be bringing her skills as a construction coordinator to South Africa again this year. She loves documentaries, sharing stories with new people and will hike any distance for a good view.

Jacob Donnay

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Jake was born and raised in Baxter, a small town in Minnesota, USA. He graduated from Minnesota State University with an education degree in teaching English as a second language. Introduced to travel as a VESA Fiji volunteer in 2017 then a VESA Laos volunteer in 2018, he’s been exploring all over Southeast Asia, Europe, UK and Canada. Jake enjoy playing sports, meeting people, and making a positive impact whenever possible. Jake will be back to inspire and lead our volunteers in 2019.

Dámaris Lopez Pérez

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Damaris, originally from Madrid in Spain, has a degree in Biology and a Masters in Biodiversity Conservation. For the previous two years she has been developing conservation projects for the Elephant Conservation Center in Laos. Damaris is excited to rejoin our team for second year in 2019, bringing her considerable experience, passion for animals and conservation skills.

Zine Buthelezi

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Zine grew up in a township near Richard’s Bay called Esikhawini before moving to Khula Village where she now resides. She has worked as education leader on the Africa Unearthed program since it began in 2010. Her first language is isiZulu and she loves to share her culture and heritage with volunteers wanting to learn more about Zulu people. When she is not working for VESA she enjoys catering and spending time with friends and family.

Andrew Palmer

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Andrew Palmer from Edinburgh in Scotland, completed an undergraduate degree in zoology at Edinburgh Napier Uni. He was a VESA volunteer in 2015 for the Africa program which gave him the confidence to travel and actively get involved in wildlife conservation projects. Wildlife and nature are Andrew’s passions, particularly photography, hiking, exploring and engaging people in wildlife conservation, nature and caring for the world. Andrew is returning to St Lucia in 2019 bringing his skill and experience to our conservation projects for a second year.

Cassandra Kell-Cattrysse

Africa Unearthed team 2019

Cassandra from London, Canada, recently graduated from Western University. She developed a love for travelling after volunteering with VESA in Fiji in 2016 and Laos in 2017. Since then she has backpacked several countries of Southeast Asia and Australia. Along with travelling, she has a passion for sustainability, health and wellness for people and the planet. She is excited to inspire and lead volunteers for the first time in the Africa Unearthed program this year.

Casandra Magro

Mozambique team 2019

Cassie, born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, graduated from the University of New Hampshire after receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Spanish. In 2017 she volunteered on a VESA project in Fiji and is now joining the Africa team as tour leader on the ‘Road to Mozambique’ after the Africa Unearthed program. Cassie loves being outdoors doing any activities ranging from surfing to hiking and she is very excited to be joining the team this season!

Tom Rowe

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019

Tom was born and raised in Ararat, Victoria in Australia before moving to Geelong to study International Relations and Journalism at Deakin University. He volunteered on the Africa Unearthed project in 2015 before returning as a VESA project leader in 2016 and 2017. Tom became our Fiji education coordinator in 2018 and will now bring his considerable expertise and friendly manner to Laos as our construction specialist.

Megan Pymm

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019

Meg, from Northampton in England, is a graduate of Nottingham Trent University. Megan has travelled and worked in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia, and parts of the UK as well as being a VESA Laos volunteer in 2018. She’s returning to Laos in 2019 for second season as our Education coordinator.  During her free time Megan likes to travel and spend time with her family and friends.

Noah Schmidt

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019

Noah from Cincinnati, Ohio in the USA, grew up hiking, camping, and loving the outdoors. He first volunteered with VESA in 2017 in Fiji where he developed a love for volunteer work. From skydiving in Fiji to hiking the Appalachian Trail Noah has always enjoyed exploring and adventure. Noah is super excited about working in Laos again in 2019, helping the Asian elephants and improving the educational outcomes of the village children.

Elizabeth Grant

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019

Elizabeth was born and raised in Preston, England. She graduated from Liverpool Hope University after studying Psychology and Early Childhood Education and has been working as a teaching assistant for kindergarten children. Since completing the VESA Fiji program  in 2015, Liz hasn’t stopped talking or thinking about it and is now excited to share her love of travel with like minded individuals and leading the volunteers at the Elephant Conservation Centre in Laos this year.

Ashley Bissonnette

Amazonas Explored team 2019

Ashley was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. She has a Bachelor in Political Science with a double major in Underdeveloped Countries and International Law from the University of Ottawa. She is currently completing her Masters in Human Rights at the University of McGill. Throughout her studies, she volunteered at different shelters for the homeless in her community and was a VESA Fiji volunteer in 2017. Ashley has the advantage of speaking FIVE languages and is very excited to be working with us for a second season in Ecuador for 2019. 

Pepe Tapia

Amazonas Explored - jungle guide

Pepe has lived in the Amazon for over 25 years, has a degree in English and lectures the on biodiversity of the Amazon at universities across the UK. Pepe will take you on an extraordinary trek deep into the Amazon jungle. You won’t find a better guide to show you the secrets of the jungle; the amazing animals, incredible bird life and the most beautiful plant life you will ever see. Pepe and his family run a local hotel in the Amazon and you will be their guest after trekking in this incredible environment. With great company, an amazing environment and the chance to learn more from one of the best, your Amazon experience will be a memory you will treasure long after your trip has concluded.

Dario Xavier Rosero Cartagena

Amazonas Explored team 2019

Xavier was born in Ibarra, Ecuador. He played music in church and then joined a rock band called Java which became an important local band of the time. Xavier teaches guitar and drums and plays romantic music in some bars. He works for VESA as a project leader and loves it as to him it is the perfect gift to the local communities. In his spare time he likes football, playing music, reading a good book and playing on his PlayStation.

Maria Jose Tapia

Amazonas Explored team leader 2019

Maria Jose Tapia was born in the Amazonas region of Ecuador in 1988, growing up in Misahualli, a magical place famous for its monkeys that roam freely through the streets and square of this small riverside town. After gaining a degree in business administration, she began her role with VESA in 2011. Because of the direct connection she has with the people and children in the Quichua communities she finds her role extremely rewarding. Maria Jose loves animals and spends her free time cycling, relaxing on the beach and likes singing at the ‘karaoque’.