Jessie Cohn
Jessie CohnExecutive Director
Originally from Washington, D.C., Jessie holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Arizona, and an MA in International Relations from the London School of Economics. She has over 10 years of experience managing programs for international and local NGOs, including two years as In-Country Director for Amigos de Santa Cruz before assuming her current position. Jessie enjoys practicing yoga in her free time, and she is the proud mother of her little rescue dog, Lola.
Alex Macfarlan
Alex MacfarlanProgram Director
Alex first came to Guatemala in 2011 from Sydney, Australia with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Economy from the University of Sydney and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oregon in Eugene. Alex has over 5 years in international development experience and has started several small businesses. Alex now manages Amigos’ economic development programs and loves building new small businesses and identifying opportunities to build the local Santa Cruz economy. In his spare time, Alex likes to play guitar, hike and write for local publications.
Rosalia Simón Pérez
Rosalia Simón Pérez Associate Program Director
Rosalia does a lot at Amigos. As Associate Program Director, she manages our Model Classroom Program, our Scholarship Program, our Sex Education Programs, as well as providing accounting and legal oversight for Amigos. During her 9 years at Amigos, she has also run Amigos’ Youth Program, was the assistant for CECAP Vocational Training Center, and worked in our Women’s Program. Rosalia is about to finish her law degree pursued with the help of an Amigos scholarship. In her (scarce) free time Rosalia likes to read, study, help out in her church, and practice her English, and her Norwegian.


Manuela Simon Perez
Manuela Simon PerezModel Classroom Educator
Manuela is an energetic member of the Amigos Education Team who loves working with children. She joined Amigos in 2015 as a teacher in the Women’s Program Education Center in Tzununa. With the help of an Amigos scholarship, Manuela has finished her teaching diploma and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education Administration. Her dream is to utilize the education techniques used in private schools to improve education in Santa Cruz’s public schools. Outside of work, Manuela loves to dance, play with her children Flor and Domingo, and make handicrafts from used materials.
Elena Yaxon
Elena YaxonEarly Education Assistant
Elena comes from Tzununa on the western side of Santa Cruz municipality. She’s always wanted to be a teacher. She studied teaching during high school in San Pedro and is now studying primary education at the UVG University in Sololá. Elena started with Amigos in 2016 as a Youth Corps education intern and in 2017 was hired to support Amigos’ Model Classroom Program. Elena likes to make origami flowers with her three brothers and five sisters. Elena was also elected the Town Flower of Tzununa in 2017.
Brenda Simaj
Brenda SimajEarly Education Assistant
Brenda joined the Amigos team in 2019 to strengthen our Early Education Reading Program. She studied high school hours from Santa Cruz in Quiche State after winning a high school scholarship there. After graduating high school, Brenda joined the Amigos Youth Corps in 2018 as a Medical Assistant Internet at Mayan Families in Panajachel. On weekends, Brenda is studying Nursing at university in Sololá with the support of an Amigos University Scholarship. In her free time, Brenda loves singing pop songs and reading novels.


Estela Simaj
Estela SimajDirector CECAP
Estela studied on an Amigos middle school scholarship all the way through to a university degree in Communications. She is the first woman in Santa Cruz history to earn her college diploma. Estela worked with Amigos in 2009 as the office assistant and returned in 2012 to work in our Manos Cruceñas store. In 2016 she took over as the Co-Director of CECAP and is now the Director of CECAP. She is also an excellent photographer and video maker and puts those skills to good use at CECAP. In the little free time that she has she plays with her five dogs, cat, and turtle and “records herself singing.”
Gloria Hernández Rafael
Gloria Hernández RafaelCECAP Assistant
Gloria helps manage all aspects of the CECAP Vocational Training Center. Supported by an Amigos scholarship, she studied at Juan Pablo High School in Panajachel before joining the Amigos Youth Corps in 2016 as the CECAP assistant. Gloria started studying Social Work at the Pan-American University in 2018 on an Amigos scholarship. She also loves baking chocolate cakes and reading novels.
Gabino Rafael Rafael
Gabino Rafael RafaelCECAP Superintendent
Every day since Gabino joined in 2017, he’s added laughter and enthusiasm to the Amigos team. Previously Gabino worked in the Santa Cruz water treatment plant and as an estate manager. When he’s not keeping CECAP clean or fixing something broken, the “Director of Cleanliness” as he’s affectionately known by the team, loves playing football and taking a walk on the lakeshore with his young children, Lucrecia, Javier and Alexito. Gabino’s dream is to run his own business and to earn income renting out properties.
Carlos Simaj
Carlos SimajComputer Instructor
Carlos loves teaching and has dedicated his career toward improving education in Santa Cruz. He studied Pedagogy and Education in Guatemala’s public San Carlos University before becoming Director of Santa Cruz Middle School and Amigos’ computer lab instructor. Carlos’ dream is to give fun, engaging classes to help the 200 students he teaches each year love getting an education. Outside of work Carlos loves to play football, organize local football tournaments and leads a local youth organization dedicated to organizing sporting activities for local youth. Carlos has two children.
Francisco Hernández Pérez
Francisco Hernández PérezCarpentry Instructor
Francisco started in CECAP’s first ever carpentry class in 2010 and now is the carpentry instructor. Francisco was actually a painter before he was a carpenter and loves to combine his artistic side with his love for teaching and working with children. Francisco looks forward to a Santa Cruz full of well-paying jobs for all his students.
Esther Santos Ujpan
Esther Santos UjpanBeading Instructor
When Esther was just 11 years old she began collecting discarded beads off the floor in the marketplace in Panajachel to make her own bracelets. She never thought those beads would turn into a livelihood for her future family but it turned into a stable living in 2012 when Esther began teaching beading classes at Amigos. Esther supports her daughter, Carolina, who is studying in the CECAP Culinary Program and son, Danilo, studying in the Santa Cruz primary school.
Felix Teodoro Ajcalon
Felix Teodoro AjcalonSewing Instructor
Felix teaches his students how to make everything from bags to napkins to huipiles (traditional blouses). Felix has done many things in his life besides sewing, including making and selling ice cream, driving as a chauffeur, and playing drums in a marimba band. Now, though he is content teaching CECAP students a skill he knows will help them earn more money and help lift Santa Cruz out of poverty.


Martha Chavez
Martha ChavezYouth and Sex Ed Program Coordinator
Marta hails from Santiago Atitlán. She is a Maya Tzutujil mother of 3 daughters, two of which are now studying at university. Before joining Amigos in 2020, Marta worked at the Santiago Municipal Women’s Office and also at the Presidential Commission Against Violence Against Women and Racism (CODISRA). Marta has also worked as a radio host for La Voz de Atitlán for 18 years promoting education and knowledge on human rights, community development and the environment. Marta is committed to advancing women’s rights and fighting violence against women in Guatemala. She is finishing her Legal and Social Sciences Degree in Sololá. In her spare time, Marta likes to embroider, play basketball and do zumba. She dreams of seeing her daughters all graduate from university, graduate herself as a notary and to learn to speak English.
Dalia Vasquez Gonzales
Dalia Vasquez GonzalesSex Education Specialist
Dalia comes from San Pedro on the south side of Lake Atitlán. She joined the Amigos Sexual Education and Youth Team in 2019 after previously working with women’s shelters and educating victims of gender violence. Dalia went to high school in Santiago Atitlan and studied Political Science in Xela. She now studies Pedagogy in Sololá. Dalia is a vibrant member of the Amigos team and is committed to empowering women across Guatemala. In her spare time, Dalia volunteers with a local medical clinic. She dreams of starting more initiatives to reduce violence against women and would love to learn to speak English and German.
Daniel Pérez Simaj
Daniel Pérez SimajYouth Corps Assistant
Daniel joined the Amigos team as a Youth Corps education intern in 2017. Daniel brought a wealth of experience to the classroom having previously completed an education degree at the Pan-American University in Sololá and worked training government agricultural educators. Daniel now manages the Amigos Youth Corps and is always looking for innovative techniques to make learning fun. Daniel loves playing with his 2 year old daughter and jamming on electric bass with his band.


Elizabeth Pérez Cholotio
Elizabeth Pérez CholotioWomen’s Program Coordinator
Elizabeth joins the Amigos team from San Juan La Laguna bringing a wealth of experience in small business. Elizabeth studied Tourism Business Administration at UVG University in Sololá and has worked with several business projects around the lake. One of her favorites was working with the Heart of the Forest Eco-Park in Santa Lucia. In her spare time, Elizabeth volunteers with the San Juan Library’s Business Center to help foment local small businesses. She also has her own small business making hand painted bird necklaces from coconut shells.
Vanessa Vásquez
Vanessa VásquezBusiness Specialist
Vanessa brings a wealth of business experience to Amigos’ new Entrepreneur Cultivation Program for women-led businesses and entrepreneurs in Santa Cruz. Originally from Sololá, Vanessa studied Business Administration at the Panamerican University and ran Starfish’s Youth Business Program before joining Amigos in 2019. Vanessa is a single mum of 5 year-old Álvaro Eduardo who loves dinosaurs and hiking in nature just like his mum.
Tomasa Pérez Simaj
Tomasa Pérez SimajWomen’s Program Assistant
Tomasa is one of the youngest members of the Amigos team having joined as the Women’s Empowerment Program Assistant in 2018 after demonstrating her skills and potential as a Amigos Youth Corps intern in the Women’s Program in 2017. Tomasa is a driven young woman who put herself through high school by babysitting and plans to study social work in 2019. Tomasa dreams of becoming a strong female leader in her community to help empower other women. Outside of work, Tomasa enjoys embroidering and belt-loom weaving.


Cristina Hernández Tepaz
Cristina Hernández TepazAccountant
Cristina started in 2015 cutting fabric for our Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store but excelled and moved quickly into helping with administration and managing our books. She did well and in 2016 she was hired on full-time. She has now taken on even more responsibilities managing parts of our Model Classroom Program. Cristina has one son, Eduardo, whom she is very proud of and who is an active participant in our Model Classrooms Program. Cristina used to work in the local health center and now volunteers her free time treating her neighbors. Her dream is to improve education standards in Santa Cruz.
José Mendoza
José MendozaAccounting Assistant
José “Chepe” Mendoza from Santa Cruz village joins the Administration Team after being part of the Amigos Youth Corps in 2017. José finished high school at San Francisco College in Panajachel with a specialization in Accounting and Computing. José loves numbers and computers but when he’s not working, José loves playing football with his uncles, playing with his dog Tomson and swimming. José is an energetic and helpful addition to the Amigos team in 2019.


Dominga Simon Hernandez
Dominga Simon HernandezStore Manager
Dominga began with Amigos when she received a scholarship to pursue middle and high school studies. In 2011, Dominga started working for Amigos in our Nutrition Program. Due to her excellent high school performance, Dominga won a chance to spend two years studying English and Environmental Studies in Portland, Oregon. When she returned in 2014 she began working in our Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store supervising our production and retail sales. Dominga who took over as Store Manager in 2019 is “a woman capable of anything,” and she loves that Amigos promotes this attitude.
Paulina Tepaz
Paulina TepazWholesale Assistant
Paulina is a Santa Cruz local living just 100m from CECAP! She studied as a bilingual secretary in high school on an Amigos scholarship. After graduating high school, she joined the 2017 Amigos Youth Corps working as an intern in CECAP’s Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store. After gaining experience working at Voltan Tour Agency in 2018, Paulina joined the Amigos team as our Store Wholesale Assistant in 2019. Paulina is also in her 2nd year on an Amigos University Scholarship studying Business Administration in Sololá. In her free time, Paulina loves to read Guatemalan histories and legends, hang out with her siblings and play with her dog, Rex.
Claudia Hernández Rafael
Claudia Hernández RafaelProduction Assistant
Claudia is from Santa Cruz village and graduated high school in Panajachel as a junior accountant. She joined Amigos’ Youth Corps in 2017 as an intern with the CECAP Vocational Training Center. Claudia started as the Production Assistant for Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store in 2018. Claudia works directly with more than 100 women artisans from Santa Cruz giving them their raw materials and checking product quality. While working in the Store, Claudia also studies Business Administration at Panamericana University. In her free time, Claudia loves spending time with her five sisters and playing football.


Santiago Perez Santos
Santiago Perez SantosRestaurant Manager
Santiago hails from Chuitzanchaj, high in the mountains of Santa Cruz and often walks down the mountain to work at Café Sabor Cruceño. Santiago graduated the CECAP Culinary Program in 2012 and took over as Restaurant Manager in 2017. In his free time Santiago likes to practice his English and play with his daughter Lorena. He looks forward to seeing the change in Santa Cruz he is starting to see grow and fully develop. He also wants to make sure everyone in Santa Cruz appreciates the art of gastronomy.
Jeremias Santos Pérez
Jeremias Santos PérezAssistant Manager
Jeremias or “Jerry” was part of the first CECAP Culinary Program in 2011 and has worked in a variety of coffee shops and bakeries before joining the Café Sabor Cruceño team on and off for the past few years. Now working full-time at CECAP, Jerry loves whipping up an eggplant and chicken stirfry. He prides himself in his food’s presentation and is a crowd favourite when waiting tables. Outside of work, he loves to play football, the piano and dreams of having a restaurant and being a pianist.
Thelma Martin Balcot
Thelma Martin BalcotCafé Assistant
Thelma is a key member of the Café Sabor Cruceño team. She studied in the CECAP Culinary Program in 2015 and has been working in Café Sabor ever since. Her favourite food to prepare is Pepian, a curry-like dish famous all over Guatemala. When she’s not giggling while preparing delicious dishes in the café, Thelma loves making cakes with her 5 sisters. Her dream is to become a Super Chef!