Ellen Ratner

Ellen Ratner

FOUNDER

Ellen Ratner is the founder of Goats for the Old Goat/GEMS Development Foundation (Goats, Education, Medicine, Sustainability).  She is now retired, but before she retired, she visited South Sudan in March of 2008 with some other talk show hosts. The pain and suffering the local people went through reminded her of what she had heard about the Holocaust. She learned then that a female goat could give people milk, two babies a year, and allow people to sustain themselves. That’s when the idea of Goats for the Old Goat/GEMS was born. When in media, she covered the White House from the summer of 1993 to the summer of 2017 and was a liberal news analyst for the Fox News Channel for 21 years.  Ellen does stay busy in her new life with her continued interest in writing and is working on two books currently as well as researching her family archives.

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Darrin Peterson

PRESIDENT

For more than 15 years, Darrin Peterson has worked in the natural products industry as a leading sales agent, retail store manager, and co-owner of a small manufacturing firm. He has consulted for some of the largest companies in the channel and currently serves as Chairman/President of LifeSeasons.  Darrin served as VP of Treasury for GEMS.

He shares an experience from his first trip to South Sudan.“Many of the mothers in the NBG are faced with decisions none of us would even consider. Without the basic necessities of food, water and medical assistance, a mother will have to decide, ‘Which child do I choose to let live?’ Take a moment to imagine this. I shared this with my wife over Skype, who is now expecting our 10th child. At that moment, we sat in silence and cried. At times, it is overwhelming, and you can easily slip into a feeling of hopelessness, but when you consider the ‘one,’ you are again filled with the passion a young, developing country needs. With an under-five infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, this country seeks help and the ability to live once again a life of passion.”

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Cholene Espinoza, MD

VICE PRESIDENT OF MEDICAL PROGRAMS

Dr. Cho, as she is known in South Sudan, is the GEMS Director of Medicine, while also currently a Resident in training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. She has been a Visiting Lecturer in Physiology at the Juba University College of Medicine, South Sudan and together with Dr. Mayen Achiek, Dean of Juba Medical School, and St George’s University, implemented a distance learning curriculum for Basic Science education and maternal health in South Sudan.

Dr. Cho’s career has taken various turns. Before embarking on a medical career, she was a former USAF pilot and commercial airline Captain. She is a decorated combat veteran for missions flown in the U-2 spy plane and is type rated in nine commercial jets logging over 12,000 hours of flying. She is still an active pilot. Her experiences as an embedded journalist in Iraq inspired her to become a Medical Doctor.

Dr. Cho earned her Bachelor of Science from the USAF Academy. She obtained her Medical Degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine, Grenada, WI, graduating Magna Cum Laude.

Her dedication to and passion for serving the vulnerable has formed the foundation for her life’s work. Her perspective on people in crisis is detailed in a book she wrote to build a public swimming pool and education in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi after Katrina, titled, Through the Eye of the Storm, A Book Dedicated to Rebuilding What Katrina Washed Away, Published by Chelsea Green, 2006.

Sharon Edwards

Sharon Edwards

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Sharon has worked with “Goats for the Old Goat” and Founder Ellen Ratner almost since the inception of the organization. In 2013, she was appointed Executive Director and the 501(c)3 non-profit was renamed GEMS Development Foundation in 2014, emphasizing the Goats project, Education, Medicine, and Sustainability. With this expansion of purpose, GEMS Development Foundation offers assistance in a variety of targeted projects for the people of South Sudan.

Ms. Edwards has over 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors, supporting U.S. Foreign Policy, International Trade, Democracy Building and Elections, Political Affairs, Public Relations, and Global Business Development. During her nine years with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Ms. Edwards’ responsibilities included coordination of Board Meetings, special events, and serving as an international election observer in Latin America and Eastern Europe. She was a founding member of IFES Women’s Democracy Task Force and a delegate to Vital Voices in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Ms. Edwards also served as a political appointee in four administrations, three where she reported directly to the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Interior. Her fourth assignment was aide to the U.S. Ambassador in the Dominican Republic. She received several Meritorious Awards during her tenure; and previously had been named in Outstanding Young Women of America.

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Codi Peterson

VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS

Codi has worked with GEMS since 2016 and loves the passion and culture of the South Sudanese people. He’s been over to visit 2 times to assist with the logistics of the Goats Program and the Majok Goi Farm Project. He’s been adopted into the Palieche tribe and the people of South Sudan know him as Peter Deng. With a Bachelor’s degree of Economics from Brigham Young University, he’s passionate about empowering villages to become self-sufficient through micro-business and employment programs. He’s had a wide variety of exposure to different industries including tech, investment banking, international consulting, and currently works as a marketing director at LifeSeasons.

Dr. Mayen Machut Achiek

Dr. Mayen Machut Achiek

HEAD, SOUTH SUDAN MEDICAL PROGRAMS

Dr. Achiek acts as Head of the Department of Surgery & Medical Education, College of Medicine, University of Juba. He also is the Senior Consultant Surgeon at the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan. Dr. Achiek serves as the medical lead in South Sudan dealing with GEMS programs in the country, particularly with respect to teaching students in our medical program, as well as working with patients under these programs.

Dr. Achiek previously served as a Senior Fellow in General Laparoscopic & Colorectal Surgery at Kings College Hospital, University of London, UK. He was also a Lecturer in General Surgery and MBBS Examiner in London during that time.

Education for Dr. Achiek includes BS/Pharmacy, University of Khartoum; MBBS, Faculty of Medicine, University of Gezira, Sudan; FRCS, The Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh (UK); Postgraduate Diploma in Laparoscopic Surgery, Strassbourg, France; Advanced University Lecturing & Higher Education, University of London. During the 1990’s, Dr. Achiek received additional training at Wrexham Hospital, Wales, UK.

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Angelo Marac Thiik

COUNTRY DIRECTOR

Angelo Marac Thiik serves as the Country Director for GEMS in the Republic of South Sudan, where he manages a variety of duties and responsibilities. He coordinates trips and activities for the US team when they come to South Sudan for project work. Within that purview, Angelo coordinates working plans for GEMS’ goat distribution, as well as assisting with the wheelchair distribution for polio victims.As the point person in Juba, Angelo is designated to attend meetings with UN agencies and NGOs. He also acts as liaison with UNHAS, the organization responsible for UN flights to regions of South Sudan. In order to keep GEMS staff and board updated, Angelo is in contact with government ministries for health, education, and humanitarian affairs for action plans which assist in GEMS ongoing development.

Angelo’s previous experience includes appointment as a Member of the State Parliament from 2005-2010, during which time he was elected Speaker. He also served as the Field Coordinator for CSI from 1998-2005; and also as Secretary for the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission from 1992-1998.

Angelo returned to his studies at the University of Nairobi, where he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 2010.

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Luka Garang Kenyang

FIELD DIRECTOR FOR THE STATE OF NORTHERN BAHR EL- GHAZAL/PROGRAM MANAGER

Mr. Garang serves GEMS Development Foundation as the Field Director for the State of Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, which includes Aweil and surrounding areas.  His duties are to manage the Goats distribution program in NBG which involves selection of the goats, payment, and coordination of the distribution with the team.  He also trains and supervises the women in the Survivor Hearts Beading and Breathing Program. These women are suffering from PTSD, and this program provides therapy and income for the 42 women who create the crystal hearts through this therapy.  In connection with GEMS Education Program and Education Director Charlotte Haynes, Luka organizes workshops and facilitates the training program for teachers. He also manages the feeding program for children at the Comboni Primary School in Wanyjok, which is sponsored by GEMS.

Luka is responsible for managing the Wheelchair Program for polio survivors, purchasing parts for the wheelchairs, coordinating those who are producing the finished product, and keeping records of who is to receive the wheelchairs, as well as working with the Executive Director as to the donors who give to GEMS for this effort.

Additionally, when a team of volunteers comes to South Sudan, Aweil and the NBG in particular, Luka is staffed with coordinating these visits, as well as scheduling meetings with State government officials.

Luka has previous experience with NGOs working in South Sudan by assisting CSI, an organization associated with refugee survival and previously a partner with GEMS.  He also held the position of Parliamentary Secretary in the State Legislative Assembly (NBGS-Aweil) from 2008-2010.

Luka was educated in Kenya, with the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2006 and with a Diploma for Computer Science in 2008.  He is proficient in English and Kiswahili, as well as the Dinka and Arabic dialects.