Ellen Ratner

Ellen Ratner

FOUNDER

Ellen is the White House Correspondent and Bureau Chief for Talk Media News, covers the White House and provides exclusive reports to over 400 national and regional talk radio stations from the halls of Congress and government agencies. She is also a credentialed reporter at the Talk Radio News Service bureau at the United Nations in New York. Ms. Ratner can be seen regularly on Fox News’ “The Strategy Room”.

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Darrin Peterson

VICE PRESIDENT OF FINANCE

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 serves 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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Bianca McDown Reber

MARKETING AND EVENTS COORDINATOR

Bianca has worked with Marketing and Events for the past five years. From planning huge corporate conferences to running charitable events, it is her passion. She loves people, and she loves the challenge of connecting with anyone in the world! She currently Serves as Marketing and Events coordinator for GEMS.

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Codi Peterson

MARKETING

Codi is a Junior in the Economics program at Brigham Young University and helps coordinate the delivery of certificates and photos as well as oversees donor communications. He is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.Last summer he had the opportunity to work in Buenos Aires, Argentina with a small legal and business consulting firm developing M&A strategies for businesses looking to expand internationally. Codi has worked in a variety of industries including IT, construction management, and marketing. Aside from working with GEMS, Codi enjoys rock climbing, writing music, and spending time with his 9 younger brothers and sisters. He is passionate about helping people from all backgrounds and cultures recognize and achieve their potential and become the best that they can be.

Dr. Atong Ayuel Longar

Dr. Atong Ayuel Longar

MANAGING DIRECTOR, MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMS 

Dr. Atong (as doctors are referred to by first names in South Sudan) has served as the Managing Director for the GEMS Development Foundation’s Street People Project for the past two years. Note: Please see ‘Street People Project’ on our website list of projects for more information. That effort provides medicine on a monthly basis to people with mental disabilities who are homeless or shunned by their families and are literally lost on the streets. The program brings them in, providing food, clothing, baths, and medicine. They return every 30 days to get their medication, and their results are tracked. This effort, along with Dr. Atong’s breathing program and other therapies, has earned a second invitation to the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting where she will present a paper on her work and results from the therapy she and GEMS are providing.Dr. Atong also holds the position of Director for Mental Health at the Juba University Hospital, as well as Associate Professor at the University of Juba.

Dr. Atong also holds the position of Director for Mental Health at the Juba University Hospital, as well as Associate Professor at the University of Juba.

Dr. Atong received her Bachelor’s Degree for Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychiatry from the University of Bahr Al Ghazal College of Medicine.

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

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.

Tong Deng

Tong Deng

ADVISOR

Hon. Tong Deng Anei has been an Advisor with GEMS Development Foundation for the past four years, serving in several capacities with the Foundation’s various programs and as liaison with the government of Northern Bahr El Ghazal State, as well as the national government. Deng is a food security specialist with 17 years of experience helping implement humanitarian assistance programs in South Sudan and Kenya. Despite growing up in difficult conditions during Sudan’s civil war, Deng has always worked hard to help improve the lives of people in need throughout South Sudan. Deng has participated in numerous trainings locally and internationally on food security sponsored by the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and United State Agency for International Development (USAID). Throughout his career, Deng has worked for various national and international organizations, including the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA) from 1995 to 1999; WFP from July 1999 to April 2003; FAO from 2003 to 2006; and the University of Missouri Assistance Program in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture from 2006 to 2009. Deng has worked as a Program Management Specialist with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance since 2009 and he was appointed by the government as the first the State Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports in Northern Bahr El Ghazal.

Deng participated in nine WFP-led annual needs assessments (ANA) from 1995 to 2002. These assessments were the main tool used by the U.N. and SRRA to provide timely information to decision-makers on food security needs during the civil war. In addition, Deng was the key focal point in formulating the European Commission’s Sudan Productive Capacity Recovery Program (SPCRP) and Sudan Institution Food Security information for Action (SIFSIA).

Deng was part of the USAID and Government of South Sudan Food Security strategy assessment entitled “From Relief to Development: Towards a USAID Food Security Strategy for Southern Sudan 2007.” He also participated in the review of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace Sudan Food Assistance Transition Study in 2007.

In 2008, Deng helped the Government of National Unity, Government of Southern Sudan and USAID bring peace between two warring tribes of Dinka Malual of Northern Bahr El Ghazal state and Messiriya of Southern Kordofan State, despite difficult political and tribal conflict conditions. Deng encouraged dialogue between the two tribes, which led to the first successful, internationally recognized cross-border Dinka Malual and Messiriya Grassroots Peace Conference (DMMPC) attended by over 500 people, including traditional chiefs, ordinary citizens, religions leaders, governors, MPs, ministers and other government officials in November 11 to 14, 2008 Aweil Town.

Charlotte Haynes

Charlotte Haynes

EDUCATION DIRECTOR

Charlotte serves as the Educator Director for GEMS Development Foundation, coordinating the teacher training, school support, and teacher scholarship programs. Along with several colleagues from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City, she has lead three teacher training institutes with educators from five different primary and secondary schools in the Wanyjok area of South Sudan. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Studies Education at Teachers College, Columbia University with a focus on the teaching of controversial and difficult histories of violence and genocide in post-conflict contexts. She also received a Master of Education from Teachers College in international education development, with a emphasis on peace and human rights Education. Prior to that, she received a Masters of Arts in History/Social Studies Education from Stanford University. She worked for seven years as a high school history and literacy teacher in California. She currently resides in Guatemala as part of her doctoral work, and is committed to developing long-term sustainable support for educators in South Sudan.