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.

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!

NICOLÁS BUSTOS

NICOLÁS BUSTOS

Placement Advisor

Nicolás Bustos Rueda is from Cuenca, Ecuador. He has a degree in Tourism Engineering from University of Cuenca. He was also a cast member at the Walt Disney World Resorts working in the theme parks in Orlando, Florida. He studied Human Resources, Experiential Learning and Customer Service at Disney University. Nico has been working in the international education field since April 2017 helping students and volunteers from different universities from the United States, Canada and Europe. He has experience managing groups and coordinating trips for several excursions in the past. Nicolás joined the Kaya team at the end of 2021 and loves to meet people and learn about the differences between cultures; working with community tourism is one of his favorite focuses.

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.

EMMA POWERS

EMMA POWERS

University Relations and Customized Groups Assistant

Emma assists H, Laura, and Emily as they build relationships with universities and customize group programs. She has over ten years of experience as an administrative assistant, and she especially enjoys streamlining systems and processes. Excel is her friend.

Emma spent much of her childhood traveling with her adventurous, artistic family and noticing insects and animals wherever she went. In college, she studied art history and art conservation in Italy, but she has always cared most for the environment and wildlife. These days, she often visits the rugged landscape of central Mexico, and tries to plan one big trip every two years. (Most recently, she explored the cliffs of Scotland and especially enjoyed watching the ‘Heilan coo.’) In her home life, she is known as an artist and writer.

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.

Kaya celebrates its 10 year anniversary

Kaya 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!