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Our Projects

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.

Kayla Belk

Participant Coordinator - Northern Hemisphere

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.

Becky Sicard

Fundraising and Campus Club Coordinator

Becky, a past VESA volunteer, is from a small town in rural Ontario, Canada. Becky raised all the funds for her trip as well as extra for gifts for the communities.

She has presented in front of university groups about our projects (specifically fundraising) and has also been a team leader in Africa for three project season. If you need help this is the girl to ask….please feel free to email her at [email protected] with any questions or advice

Mackenzie Anderson

Conference Manager

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Mackenzie graduated from Oregon State University receiving a degree in Social Science with a focus on Community Development. Living in Oregon Mackenzie has always been immersed in the outdoors, deeply valuing the natural environment and animals. In 2018 she travelled to Ecuador on a VESA trip which ignited her passion for international service and a desire to learn the Spanish language. Since then, she has continued to travel and cherish other cultures and people around the world. Mackenzie also loves running, being outside in the sun, painting, and dedicating time to her yoga and meditation practice.

Diane Lalonde

1957 - 2020 - with VESA for 8 years and forever in our hearts

Diane was 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. Her motto was always ‘Keep it simple’.

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

Sophie Shackleton

Fiji Islands Discovered team 2019 - 2020

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 - 2020

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 again this season.

Dámaris Lopez Pérez

Africa Unearthed team 2019 - 2020

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 a third season, bringing her considerable experience, passion for animals and conservation skills.

Zine Buthelezi

Africa Unearthed team 2019 - 2020

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 - 2020

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 – 2020 bringing his skill and experience to our conservation projects for a third year.

Cassandra Kell-Cattrysse

Africa Unearthed team 2019 - 2020

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 for second season.

Noah Schmidt

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019 - 2020

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 – 2020, helping the Asian elephants through our reforestation and food security project at the Elephant Conservation Centre.

Elizabeth Grant

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019 - 2020

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, After being our Elephant conservation guide,  she is looking forward to bringing  her skills this season to our village schools English language education program.

Francesca Codd

Laos Elephants Encountered team 2019 - 2020

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. After bringing her skills as a construction coordinator to South Africa last year year she is helping out at the ECC as our conservation guide for our 2019 – 2020 project

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 - 2020

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 - 2020

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’.