LEADERSHIP

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.
Rosalia Simón Pérez
Rosalia Simón Pérez Director of Education Programs and Administration
Rosalia does a lot at Amigos. As Director of Education Programs and Administration, she manages our Model Classroom Program, our Scholarship Program, our Sex Education Programs and provides accounting and legal oversight for Amigos. During her 9 years at Amigos, she has also run Amigos’ Youth Program, was the CECAP Vocational Training Center assistant, 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.
Estela Simaj
Estela SimajDirector of Economic Programs
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 later as the Director of CECAP. In 2021 she became the Director of Economic Programs. She is also an excellent photographer and video maker and puts those skills to good use. In the little free time that she has, she plays with her five dogs, cat, and turtle and “records herself singing.”

EDUCATION

Manuela Simon Perez
Manuela Simon PerezEarly Education Program Coordinator
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.
Brenda Simaj
Brenda SimajReading Program Teacher
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.
Eva Florinda Pecher
Eva Florinda PecherReading Program Teacher
Eva comes from Jaibalito, one of the smaller villages in the Santa Cruz municipality. She joined the Amigos team in January, 2019, and is proud of the positive reinforcement and collaborative teaching methods that she has learned with her team. Eva also participates in Amigos’ Peer Leaders in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program, and is studying Social Work at a university in Sololá. She is particularly passionate about the connection between her studies and her work, helping to build a better future for the children, youth and adults of her community. In her free time, Eva enjoys swimming, playing basketball, walking in the mountains, and spending time with her mom.
Paulina Tepaz Santos
Paulina Tepaz SantosReading Program Teacher
Paulina is a teacher at heart, and dedicated to helping children learn and grow. Originally from Santa Cruz, Paulina worked as a primary school teacher for two years as well as interned with Amigos’ Early Education Program in 2017. She joined our staff officially in January 2020 as a teacher in our Afternoon Reading Program, working with the 2nd and 3rd grades. In her free time, Paulina enjoys making crochet scarves and spending time with her mother.

CECAP VOCATIONAL TRAINING CENTER

Juan Pérez
Juan PérezCECAP Director
A Santa Cruz native, Juan has been a part of the Amigos team for many years. He started as Computer Instructor from 2009-2016. Then, after working for a time training teachers in technology, Juan received a university degree in Information Technology and Business Administration from the Universidad Mesoamericana in Quetzaltenango in 2018. He returned to work for Amigos in February, 2019 as a Professional Development Specialist overseeing job placements, professional development training, and CECAP technology services. In 2021 he took over as the Director of CECAP. In his free time, Juan loves playing and watching football (soccer), running, and listening to poetry and podcasts. He also enjoys spending time with his kitten ‘Java,’ named for the programming language that he loves learning more about.
Gloria Hernández Rafael
Gloria Hernández RafaelCECAP Associate
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.
Braulio Miguel Angel Cochoy Muz
Braulio Miguel Angel Cochoy MuzComputer Instructor
From the nearby community of Santa Lucia Utatlan, Braulio joined Amigos in August 2019 as the CECAP Computer Instructor. Previously, he served as a coach in the Telefonica Foundation’s Technology Classroom Program and studied Information Technology and Business Administration at the Universidad Mesoamericana in Quetzaltenango. Braulio is passionate about football (soccer), which he loves playing in his free nights and weekends. When he is not playing football, Braulio also loves running in the forest near his house and reading books on personal development.
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.

YOUTH AND SEX EDUCATION

Dalia Vasquez Gonzales
Dalia Vasquez GonzalesYouth and Sex Education Program Associate
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 and Sex Education Program Associate
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.

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM

Vanessa Vásquez
Vanessa VásquezWomen´s Empowerment Program Coordinator
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 Empowerment Program Associate
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.

ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE

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.

MANOS CRUCEÑAS ARTISAN STORE

Paulina Tepaz
Paulina TepazWholesale Sales Representative
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.

CAFÉ SABOR CRUCEÑO

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!
Claudia Cumes Alvarez
Claudia Cumes AlvarezCustomer Service Capitan and Guatemalan Cooking Instructor
A Santa Cruz native, Claudia first joined the Amigos staff team in December 2012 after studying in the CECAP Culinary Program. She started as a chef and waitress, and has since worked her way up to her current roles as Customer Service Captain and Guatemalan Cooking Instructor. You can read her glowing reviews on our TripAdvisor page! Claudia’s passions are in gastronomy and tourism, and she also assists in Amigos’ community tourism initiatives and offers her own Santa Cruz Community Tour. Claudia has seen the women and girls of Santa Cruz suffer under old customs of discrimination and unequal treatment. Through her work and her studies, she hopes to pave a new a brighter path forward for the women of her village.

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