Guadalupe Ramírez was born in the town of Tejutla, San Marcos, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Descendants of slaves, Guadalupe and her family struggled to maintain their health and well-being in a poverty-stricken community until their lives were transformed when nuns from Belgium arrived after Vatican II to foster liberation through education and empowerment. Guadalupe’s father was selected to participate in a cooperative leader training program, subsequently becoming a leader in the cooperative movement. The change fostered by the organization of cooperatives was substantial and long lasting, one generation later, her family now contains one sister who is an accountant, another sister a schoolteacher, the third sister has her MBA, and the youngest is working on a postgraduate degree in chemical engineering.
Spending much of her childhood in cooperatives meetings, Guadalupe learned that people could change their lives for the better by working together. While there are serious challenges confronting indigenous communities, the practices of consensus and community action have allowed her people to survive centuries of injustice and marginalization.
Guadalupe is also the owner of AlterNatives, a store that carries fairly and directly traded, handmade gifts and jewelry, and, whether she’s at a wrestling match, lacrosse, or a football game, she is the best sideline support her two sons could ask for.
Ben Blevins was “radicalized” after a mission trip during his freshman year of college to Central America. As one minister said, “he was someone who took the volunteer in mission experience more seriously than the church intended.” While appreciating the life changing benefits of the experience, Ben was concerned by the negative impacts of the mission program on local communities. While not understanding anything about social work or community development, it was obvious that the programming promoted by the church was exasperating problems rather then empowering native populations.
Originally enrolled in college as a Theater major, Ben’s experience prompted his switch to a study in economic development in the Third World (not his choice of language). Ben was most interested in how to foster transformational experiences to raise awareness and passion for social justice amongst North American youth through cross-cultural experiences while at the same time promoting sustainable and just development for partner communities. After Graduating from the University of Richmond, he traveled to Guatemala as a human rights worker, and in the early 1990’s, he became aware of the cooperatives movement and experienced the positive long-term benefits the movement accomplished. He was “sold” on the potential for small business development as a more appropriate response to the causes of poverty than the dependency-laden models of charity and child sponsorship programs.
Ben is also the founder and managing trustee of Common Good Trust, a holding company for socially responsible business ventures that are developed to put into practice ethical standards and ecological sustainability. Ben is also an Eagle Scout, high school offensive line coach, avid drummer, and vegan baker. His latest development is a fabulous recipe for tofu-based blueberry crepes.
Mayra Verónica Izara López
Mayra has been with Highland Support Project since 2012 and works as a Social Promoter in the area of Quetzaltenango. While completing her training to become a high school teacher, Mayra did a rotation teaching women in rural communities and discovered her passion for working in this setting and women’s empowerment. Mayra is indigenous Mam and bridges communication between our volunteers and the women in the communities we serve, as well as coordinating with communities concerning current and upcoming projects. Inspired by her work with HSP, Mayra is currently pursuing her degree in social work.
María Paola Tzep Ajú
Paola is indigenous Mayan Ki’che and joined the HSP team in 2014. Paola works as the Social Promoter in the area of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, Sololá, coordinating project details, as well as fostering communication between HSP volunteers and communities. Paola has been part of the HSP community since she was a girl. Before joining the team as a social promoter, Paola worked with partner organization AMA's fair-trade textile initiative, Pixan, as a weaver and participated in AMA’s women's’ circles with her mother. After finishing her studies in business administration, Paola joined the HSP team in her current role. Paola is currently in university, pursuing a degree in Merchandising.
Laura became the Outreach and Communications Coordinator for HSP in July 2015. She works as copywriter, photographer, and translator for HSP and AMA in Guatemala. She received her Bachelor of Science degree at Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Religious Studies, graduating with honors in 2012. Her interests and passions allow her to thrive working an environment that focuses on empowerment of indigenous women. She has also been pursuing digital and film photography for over 7 years and in 2015 her work was mentioned in the Washington Post’s annual travel photography contest. Other interests of hers include traveling, dancing, culture & spirituality studies, music, and any type of nature activity such as camping, hiking, and swimming.