Strength in Diversity
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 development economics and Spanish. 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, avid drummer, backpacker and vegan baker. His latest development is a fabulous recipe for tofu-based blueberry crepes.
Guadalupe Celeste Ramirez
Chief Program Officer
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 founder of AlterNatives, a social enterprise to assist rural indigenous communities gain access to international markets and foster collaboration rather than competition amongst Indigenous producers. AlterNatives explores models of business development based on indigenous economic theory of balanced relationships and the common good.
Guadalupe enjoys her new found passion for Yoga and long walks along the river. if she is not busy planning team itineraries or designing products for the Pixan enterprise, you can find her watching episodes of her favorite show Northern Exposure.
Director of A Different Approach
Rochelle J. Lacapa, MPH is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and holds a degree in theology from Notre Dame and a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins. Previously, Ms. Lacapa was director of Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health on the White Mountain Apache reservation.
Rochelle is committed to implementing sustained and transformational programming that increases the capacity of community partners to have the agency to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.
Rochelle is a very busy professional providing leadership for the Sunrise Ski Resort, a tribal enterprise, and is a consultant to the Arizona Youth Conservation Corps, Apache Behavioral Health Services, and Navajo County School district.
Director of Communications
Karen holds a degree in systems and information engineering from Universidad Rafael Landivar She is currently working on her Masters in Business Administration with an emphasis in Information Systems from Universidad Mesoamerciana.
Karen first joined the team as the webmaster for the Pixan Weavers program. After two years, she left for a dream job in Guatemala's growing tech sector. It was there that she learned to appreciate the value of HSP's commitment to women's empowerment. While the income was better, she felt that the work did not leave her feeling fulfilled and was frustrated by the discrimination an indigenous woman still faces in many Guatemalan workplaces.
Mayra Izara López
Director of Pixan
Mayra has been with Highland Support Project since 2012 and has worked 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 a native Mam speakers and bridges the language gap between our volunteers and the women in 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.
Mayra has assumed leadership of the Pixan weaving program and is following her passion to work on legal issues that limit the ability of Maya women to take advantage of opportunities.