The Rethink Waste Project has welcomed a new team member! Udara Abeysekera (she/her) will be the new Program Manager. Our previous Program Manager, Ani Kasch, is moving on to new work and her humor and passion for reducing waste is going to be missed.
Udara moved to Central Oregon to be closer to family, and is currently living in Redmond. She has spent the last seven years designing and implementing sustainability programs and joins The Environmental Center with a strong background in climate science communication and outreach, working with diverse groups of non-profit organizations, government agencies, businesses, youth, and educators. Her professional and personal dedication to sustainability and climate resilience is inspired by her time close to nature and reaffirmed by her work with the Federal and California Fish and Wildlife agencies, where she saw first-hand impacts to wildlife and wild lands.
Udara worked previously as the Program Coordinator for the University of California Irvine Sustainability Resource Center (SRC). In this position, she planned and delivered programs and resources that cultivated a campus culture of sustainability and unleashed youth leadership for community resilience to a changing climate.
Before joining the SRC, Udara served as Science Program Manager at the Climate Science Alliance (CSA). In this role, she supported the integration of regionally specific climate science and scientists into land management and community outreach activities. Udara supported the growth of the CSA from 100 to over 300 partners and coordinated several inaugural gatherings, including the San Diego Climate Summit, Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit, and the CSA Tribal Working Group.
Udara received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems with a focus in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from UC San Diego. During her time at UC San Diego, she had the opportunity to reconnect with her roots volunteering with Trunks & Leaves, an organization fostering evidence-based and community-led conservation of wild Asian elephants particularly in the context of human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka.
When Udara is not at work, you might find her on hikes and at breweries with her fiancé and pup, attempting to garden, or planning themed scavenger hunts with friends.
I (Lindsey) sat down with Udara for an informal Q&A. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation. I hope you have the pleasure of meeting Udara soon, and that you’ll join me in welcoming her to the TEC family!
What do you appreciate or enjoy about living in Central Oregon?
We moved here to be closer to family. I enjoy being closer to my partner’s family. We have a 7-month old nephew and I love watching him grow. This weekend he had his first Sri Lankan food and I think he loved it! Even though it’s a different landscape, the mountains and forests here have many similarities to where I grew up in Sri Lanka, like the humidity during thunderstorms. I connect to the pace of life and sense of community here.
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this year?
I’m excited about this transition to my new role at TEC. I’m enjoying thinking creatively about my background in community based action and climate communication and how I can use that to deepen the culture of sustainability in Central Oregon. I am looking forward to being part of important behavior change and systems level change. It’s so exciting to be a part of that.
On a personal level, I’m getting married in April! I look forward to getting to see family and friends we haven’t seen in the last year and a half.
What book are you currently reading? Or a film you’ve seen recently? Or podcast?
I’m always reading and re-reading All We Can Save. It’s an anthology of essays, poems and artwork all about climate hope and cultivating it. For any mood I’m in, there is something in there.
I also recently joined a book club called Decolonize This Book Club. We’re reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
If you were to facilitate a discussion on one topic you’re passionate about, what would it be?
Gardening, or native plants, or a combination of the two! I am learning so much about gardening right now that I want to soak up as much information from others as I can! I’m interested in native plants specifically because that is how I entered the conservation space. When I first started, every walk I went on I nerded out on every plant I found! Now that I’m in a new habitat, everything is different and I have a lot to learn again.