The Amigos Team2018-06-28T18:12:21+00:00


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.


Alberto Rafeal
Alberto RafealCECAP Co-Director: Industrial Arts
Alberto began at Amigos in 2011 as a welding student and worked his way up to being the Co-Director of CECAP, where he oversees our Industrial Arts, Carpentry, and Computer Programs. Alberto is proud to work for Amigos because he is “one of the results of the organization’s vision.” In his free time he likes to play soccer and watch Disney movies with his two young sons.
Estela Simaj
Estela SimajCECAP Co-Director: Artisanry
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 now runs the Culinary, Beading, Weaving and Sewing programs. 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.
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.
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.


Jessica Maria Xon
Jessica Maria XonYouth Programs Coordinator
Jessica has run our Sex Education program for 4 years now and in 2015 began our Youth Corps Program. Jessica also studies psychology at the university in Sololá and spends a lot of time at the gym. Originally from Pana, Jessica sees day in and day out the effect Amigos has had empowering the youth and women in Santa Cruz. She realizes there is still a lot of work to be done though before all Santa Cruz youth are educated and women are completely in control of their lives and their bodies.
Judith Morales
Judith MoralesSex Education Specialist
Judith joins Amigos from the mountain community of San Andrés Semetabaj in the hills above Panajachel. She studied Early Education and Pedagogy at university in Sololá and is now continuing with a Business Administration Degree. Judith is a passionate about improving sex education and family planning in Guatemala and has worked to empower young women in San Andrés before starting at Amigos in 2018. Her dream is to lower the early pregnancy rates among young women in Guatemala through education so that young women can decide what they want to do in life and realize their dreams. In her spare time, Judith loves reading and spending time with her family.
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 Specialist
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.
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.
Sandra Simaj
Sandra SimajSocial Business Finance Assistant
Sandra loves working with numbers. In high school in Panajachel supported by an Amigos scholarship she specialized in accounting and computing. In 2016, Sandra joined the Amigos Youth Corps as the Café Sabor Cruceño Finance Assistant and was hired on in 2017. She now does the books for the Café and the Manos Cruceñas Artisan Store, while also studying in the CECAP Culinary Program in 2018. Her dream is to open her own restaurant in Santa Cruz and to finish her university degree in public accounting and auditing. On her days off, Sandra likes to swim, play football with her cousins and hang out with her five adopted street dogs.


Elmy Hernández Cholotío
Elmy Hernández CholotíoStore Manager
Elmy has managed Amigos’ Artisan Store since 2014 where she works to expand our product selection and provide meaningful work for the artisans of Santa Cruz. She loves that they can earn a better living while producing something beautiful, and by tracking the monthly incomes of our artisans she is able to keep tabs on each family and their wellbeing. Elmy bakes excellent cakes and spends as much time as possible with her two daughters and husband all stuffed together in their giant hammock.
Dominga Simon Hernandez
Dominga Simon HernandezProduction and Retail 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 is “a woman capable of anything,” and she loves that Amigos promotes this attitude.


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 PérezCafé Assistant
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!