The Watershed Project is proud to announce and pleased to share a little bit about our new Community Engagement Manager, Naama Raz-Yaseef. Below, Naama answers a few questions about community, her favorite park, her passions and her experiences that led her to The Watershed Project.
What watershed do you live in and why is it special to you?
I live in the Wildcat Creek watershed. Now I get to live and work in the same watershed. I think that’s pretty special! I became a TWP staff only three weeks ago, and since, I have already taken part in two of our creek cleanup projects and three of our educational projects in Wildcat Creek. I’ll be involved with community processes related to the new fish ladder that is being designed for this creek, working with community and Tribal representatives to inform on project design and outreach.
Wildcat Creek is only nine miles long, so the watershed is extremely vulnerable to surrounding conditions, both natural and human. When rain falls on the watershed, surface water quickly reaches the channel. During large rain events, I walk to the creek and can observe the rising water. During dry months and dry years like recent ones, water levels are low, as they are in this image taken a few days ago near Alvarado Park. I feel closely connected to this watershed, and I know I’m responsible for its well-being.
Can you share a little bit about the path that brought you to TWP?
I’m an environmental scientist, and more specifically – an ecohydrologist. I worked for over a decade as a field experimentalist at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I researched water redistribution in natural (forest, savanna, desert) and managed (agricultural and urban) ecosystems. Most of my work was conducted in water-limited regions such as California. I also worked in exotic places such as the arctic. In the photo below, I am measuring fluxes of carbon and methane released from the permafrost near Barrow, Alaska, on the shores of the arctic ocean.
After I finished this specific research, in which we showed that greenhouse gas emissions were higher than previously estimated, I felt it was time for more proactive work. I began to work with indigenous smallholder farming communities that already suffer greatly from climate change in places such as Zimbabwe and Nicaragua. I worked with them to design sustainable irrigation systems, increase the practice of traditional permaculture methodologies, and enhance community growth.
Then COVID hit, putting a halt on international travel. This led me to work locally, and I became involved in several Environmental Justice projects. That’s how I got to know and work with TWP, and I am excited and honored to be a full-time staff member now.
As the Community Engagement Manager, what does “community” mean to you?
Communities are constructed of groups of people that have something in common, but not everything, so they need to learn to collaborate across differences, or else they won’t be operative. The fascinating thing about communities is that there are no predefined structures or guidelines; often, they are created naturally and evolve organically, so that each community is unique, but also a bit similar. Before there was formal governance there were communities, and members looked after each other. This includes looking after the homes of community members, a practice that often extends into their surrounding environment. When individuals and communities do this work, they realize that the power to create change is in their hands.
What is your favorite regional park in the Bay Area and why?
Point Pinole! I know I’m not the only one that is deeply fond of this park. It has magic. Walking along the beaches and cliffs of the open and calm waters of the Bay, observing birds and other wildlife, smelling the grass, flowers, and eucalyptus trees, and seeing Mount Tamalpais across – all these never fail in bringing me to a good place, especially when I feel overburdened. A few years ago I took a photo of this scenery, and some time after that, I came across a poem by Czesław Miłosz that resonated with this photo. Miłosz was a Polish poet who exiled to the US after World War II and became a professor of literature at Berkeley. I used the photo and Miłosz’s poem to create a postcard that I sent to friends. I hope you like it too:
What do you wish to get out of this new journey with TWP?
I work on community participatory projects with the intention of shifting structures of governance. In western countries, formal leadership is often constructed of a narrow band of people, hardly representing the diverse and rich mosaic that forms communities. This informs many issues that have a large impact on our lives, such as policy, advocacy, economy, education, and infrastructure. My goal is to bring community members to the decision-making process and take an active role in planning and designing what structures of governance look like. This is a slow and excruciating process, but small changes are already taking place, and that’s how we go – step by step.
What brings you joy and why?
Honestly, all the things TWP is working on. Being in and caring for our water and ecosystems, and connecting with people. Maybe add music to the mix. We can explain love and joy but we don’t have to, and I love Earth, and I love people. They bring me joy.