About us.
Hey, Great to meet you!

Our well travelled and highly experienced team make up the fabric of our culture. Find out more about them below
MEET THE TEAM
HEILWIG JONES

HEILWIG JONES

Founder & Director

H oversees all of Kaya’s operations and conduct outreach in the U.S. and globally to secure new affiliations, especially with schools and universities. H set up Kaya in 2008 after her own volunteering experiences and many years of involvement with community projects.

During a late 20’s gap year in 2004, she was fortunate enough to make a last-minute change to her itinerary which resulted in her not being on the beaches of Thailand, as planned, for the Christmas holidays – and instead arrived just 2 days after the world’s deadliest tsunami killed 230,000 people.

She worked for 4 months as part of a group of amazing volunteers in a Thai NGO in the town of Khao Lak – one of Thailand’s worst hit regions. These were the most emotional, memorable, impactful and immersive travel experiences of her life. From her experience, she wanted others to have the chance to do the same, and Kaya was born.

JULIE GRAHAM

JULIE GRAHAM

Programs Director

Julie joined Kaya in November 2016 after having spent over 15 years in the United States. As a native of France, Julie grew up in the French Provence and was bitten by the travel bug from an early age. She has traveled extensively throughout Europe, America, Caribbean, Central America and Africa. Cultural exchanges and international development has been her reason to travel. Her travel tip is “Flexibility is key to successful travels! Things always happen when traveling abroad. Whether your flight is delayed or you lose your luggage or you are confused about the way people do things… remember to be flexible and don’t forget to take in the culture and vibe surrounding you. Be flexible and compassionate to the people that are different from you. We are all humans!

LAURA SMITH

LAURA SMITH

University Relations & Group Programs Manager

Laura oversees Kaya’s US university relations and manages customized groups inquiries, proposals and delivery. We treat group programs separately from individual placements as they are so different each time, so Laura is your contact for everything on these, from itineraries to pricing to group invoices. Laura also works with H to get new school affiliations for individual placements for our placements team to sign up!

Laura has recently moved back to the U.S., after 4 years living in South Africa, and is now in our Massachusetts office. Prior to that, she worked at Maryville College’s Center for International Education, spent time in Central America and West Africa, and completed two terms of AmeriCorps. Laura is a certified yoga instructor and has traveled to more than 30 countries!

TOM GORE

TOM GORE

Senior Placement Manager

My name’s Tom and I’ve been working for Kaya for over 6 years now. After I graduated from University, I had a life changing experience volunteering in Thailand, volunteering as a Teaching Assistant in Chiang Rai Province. As a result of my volunteering abroad, I ended up getting involved with Kaya and working in the Philippines for over a year in the city where the community projects we work with are based. Volunteering and interning abroad are amazing cross-cultural experiences and a fantastic way to give back and expand your horizons – I really can’t recommend it enough!

MARTINA FRATERNALI

MARTINA FRATERNALI

Placement Manager

Working with Tom in Manchester, Martina is ready to answer inquiries about your projects. She attends fairs alongside Tom and also manages university relationships with the UK schools and universities.

I am originally from Italy but I lived in 5 countries in the course of the years an traveled to many more across Europe, Asia and Africa. One day I decided I wanted to travel across Asia whilst immersing myself in its culture and people and spontaneously took up a volunteering opportunity in India that turned into a one year job. After that I was yet not done with Asia and I decided to take up a job opportunity in Cambodia for another year. In between I traveled and visited many places in the region.

JESSICA PALMER

JESSICA PALMER

Placement Advisor

Jess is our Ecuador-based placement advisor, working with the UK team. Her focus is on signing up anyone calling in the US time zone. Originally hailing from England, Jess has been living in South Africa for the last 4 years, where she could be found enjoying the numerous beaches, spotting local wildlife, hiking a mountain or indulging in the incredible food scene. Jess has also lived in Australia, Thailand and Mexico, plus travelled extensively. Jess is looking forward to making Ecuador her new home and exploring the endless landscapes of South America.

SOPHIE DEVEREAU

SOPHIE DEVEREAU

Marketing Co-ordinator

Sophie joined Kaya as the marketing coordinator in 2019 from a background in conservation and journalism. She has travelled throughout Japan, India, and Europe and loves hiking, journaling, and learning about local delicacies.

“What called to me about Kaya was their belief that travel and cultural connections help form a better world – I couldn’t agree more. I love to read novels set in far away places – India being one with works like Midnight’s Children or A Passage to India. But there is nothing like seeing such places unfold before you, and for the writer in me there is little more inspirational than a train journey through the mountains of Japan, or watching the waves from a tiny remote island in East Asia.”

EMILY TONG

EMILY TONG

University Relations and Group Programs Coordinator

Emily comes to us having worked several years in the International Education field. Emily’s goal is to provide guidance and perspective for young professionals engaging with new international communities. Emily is a Bowdoin ‘11 graduate receiving a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Visual Arts. She has spent quite a bit of time overseas, with extended time in Varanasi, India teaching photography; Tasmania, Australia studying abroad; Hefei, China teaching English; and New Zealand working and hiking. When she isn’t traveling, you can find Emily photographing, knitting, doing yoga, or playing with her pup, Teddy.

AUREEN MATARO

AUREEN MATARO

Placement Administrator

Based in our Philippines Office, Sheila and Aureen are our eagle-eyed program administrators. Making sure all the participants paperwork is complete, checking that they haven’t booked the wrong flight or have any special needs we need to cater for. You will hear from them as participants prepare to depart, and they’ll check in with you to see how they are getting on!

Mom and green, that basically sums me up! I have not been to other countries yet but I love exploring the island beaches in the Philippines. I’m a registered nurse but have not worked in the hospital but I participate on medical missions when I can.

SHEILA MAY BANEZ

SHEILA MAY BANEZ

Placement Administrator

Sheila has been with Kaya for 4 years, is recently married, and loves anything Korean!

A mom who loves to wander off to places she’s never been to. My family and I are lucky to have the opportunity to travel to some places and this has been a yearly tradition for us. We love to explore and learn new experiences. Travelling has played a big role in keeping our family bonded.

DAMIEN SAMWELL

DAMIEN SAMWELL

Designer & Web Developer

Damien has been providing design, digital and tech support for Kaya for the past 10 years, from its branding through to its website.

Also having travelled extensively, Damien loves visiting new places, whether it’s a new Kaya project location to document, video and photograph, or simply living a digital nomad lifestyle with a new culture and view.

Kaya celebrates its 10 year anniversary

Can has also celebrated its 10th year anniversary which we are all very excited about. Kaya has expanded to provide high quality projects in over 28 countries across 4 continents picking up some awards on the way. It’s a testament to our amazing staff that we have come this far!