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Category: staff spotlight

Meet Elizabeth: Konojel’s Social Enterprise Developer

Elizabeth first heard about Konojel at a benefit concert in San Marcos. As a volunteer, she quickly saw the impact Konojel had on the community, and gladly accepted when a permanent place was offered to her.

Elizabeth majored in Development Studies at UC Berkeley, with an emphasis in Sustainable Economic Development in Latin America. She has volunteered for AmeriCorps and various nonprofits domestically and abroad. She has ten years’ experience in food and design, including founding and managing two small businesses. More recently, as an interior designer, she worked with immigrant artisans and craftsmen, eventually leaving to pursue what has remained her main commitment to sustainable economic development in Latin America.

As the Social Enterprise Developer, a role that encompasses both the Konojel restaurant and the Sabor del Sol micro-enterprise, Elizabeth oversees and manages the operations of the restaurant and sewing cooperative. She is looking forward to increasing their capacity and capability, creating sustainable partnerships, and working on brand and product development.

Elizabeth has lived and worked in San Francisco, Beijing, Los Angeles, and Oaxaca, Mexico, and has traveled independently to 34 countries. In her free time she produces videos with her husband, Austin, a commercial director and editor.

Laura Maria Sancoy Perez, Site Coordinator, Discusses her Role at Konojel

Watching her move among the children, her love for them and her dedication to her job are apparent. Laura has worked her way up from the role of Extra-Curricular Activities Coordinator to the Site Coordinator of Programs at Konojel. She’s at the community center every day, planning menus, guiding the staff, working with the children, and making sure that everything runs smoothly.

In this video, Laura speaks about her role at Konojel, the growth she has experienced, her long term dreams, and her dedication to the community.

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Introducing Ingrid Paredes as Konojel’s New Executive Director


Introducing Ingrid Paredes

It is with deep gratitude for the long term commitment of Andrew Raphael and enthusiastic optimism for the future that we announce the acceptance of the role of Executive Director of Konojel by Ingrid Parades.

Andrew’s legacy of hard work, grassroots level efforts, and strong advocacy for the marginalized within the community of San Marcos la Laguna is shared, and will be carried on, by Ingrid Parades. Ingrid has been working with the Konojel Restaurant in San Marcos and is excited to step into the role of Executive Director in August. She and Andrew have been working together for several months to ensure a smooth transition and an uninterrupted experience for the population served by Konojel. We are excited to welcome Ingrid and are confident that she will bring her professional experience and her heart for the community to bear on the challenges faced by the role of Executive Director, on the ground in San Marcos.

Ingrid Paredes, born and raised in Guatemala, is a passionate professional with a background of almost 9 years working in the field of development projects with many communities of Sololá and El Quiché areas of Guatemala. She has a degree in chemical engineering from Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala and developed this profession for six years after graduating. In 2007, she decided to change her professional path and dedicate her work to rural development; since then, she has worked for many projects in the areas of education, food sovereignty, environmental sanitation, productive processes and cooperatives.  These experience have given her great satisfaction and trajectory working in cross cultural environments.  

She strongly believes in giving opportunities to local women as an important step in closing the bridge of inequity and discrimination in our society.  Also for her, education with principles for the early childhood is the first step to make lasting changes in society. That’s why she identifies with Konojel’s vision for the enrichment and the job training programs.

Ingrid is also an YTT200 certified yoga teacher who has shared her practice in many towns around Lake Atitlán, as with the local team of women in Konojel

Introducing Angelina: Enrichment Program Coordinator

My name is Angelina Quiacain Sajvin. I am 27 years old, born on May 16 1990 in Barrio 1, San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. I am one of six siblings.

In 2000 I entered first grade at the local primary school, and I have many memories of the great times spent with my classmates and friends; I remember much laughter and doing things that I thought were naughty at the time but now I think are just normal kid behaviors. In 2006 I entered middle school, where I studied for three years and that experience really showed me the difference in upper level studies compared to just finishing primary school.

Then, in 2009 I enrolled in the Escuela Nacional Bilingue in Santiago, which is all the way across the lake from San Marcos and was a really big commitment for me, especially as a woman it is hard to travel and complete one’s studies when life is full of daily challenges. I managed to graduate from High School in 2011 with a degree in Early Childhood Education with a focus on Bilingual and Intercultural studies.

My Job History…

Then, in 2012 I began a job in the town of San Pedro La Laguna, a town located between San Marcos and Santiago. I was working for MANC La Laguna, an organization that focuses on educational programs based on recycling of waste around the Lake Atitlan region. It was during that job that my companions and I realized that our home, Lake Atitlan, produces a great deal of garbage, and our efforts focused running informational workshops with local women on topics like waste recycling, separation of organic and inorganic garbage; not only did we host groups of indigenous women in these talks, we also visited various schools in the area to provide information and activities in the area of environmental protection. I was fortunate because this work also led me to join the National Committee of Literacy (CONALFA), an experience that allowed me to impart literacy classes to women who had not learned to read or write, with the goal of opening doors for those women through helping them develop literacy skills. It was there that I began to observe the participation of those women and their desire to overcome obstacles in their lives, and I witnessed their efforts to help their families each and everyday, in part by improving their own skills and abilities.

In the year 2014 I began working in the Escuela Caracol in my hometown of San Marcos La Laguna. This school is the first Waldorf institute in the country of Guatemala, and I was very happy to have a job as a Teacher’s Assistant in the Kindergarten class over the course of three years. This experience was wonderful for me as I was able to learn about the Waldorf pedagogy and methodology, a really interesting way to look at education that focuses on helping children learn through developing their artistic and manual abilities starting at a young age. The main objective at the Escuela Caracol is to stimulate the potential of children with the help of adult guides.

What I most enjoyed of that experience was learning from the children, as they helped me gain confidence, to feel love, as for them I think I was like a second mother because they always confided in me about personal problems they were facing. I think the job of a Teachers Assistant is to help a child with their mental and emotional state, because sometimes children can be impatient and it’s necessary to educate with love. The parent’s trusted in me and for that I’m grateful to them, and to my co-workers with whom I shared experiences, respect and humility, and to them as well I will always be grateful.

Joining Konojel Community Center

Then, in May of this year (2018) I received an invitation to interview for a position at the Konojel Community Center. I remember the first time I entered their facility, Andrew (Executive Director) and Maria (Director of Programs) were very welcoming to me and made me feel at home in their space. They set a tone of respect and humility, and I’ve deeply thankful to them for allowing me to be a part of the Konojel team. I’m really happy with my new position as Enrichment Program Coordinator, and more than anything I’m excited to have a chance to practice my professional skills with a new group of children in an environment very different from my previous work experiences.

The Enrichment Program at Konojel focuses on reinforcing skills that local children need to finish their studies and have opportunities as they grow. These days in San Marcos there are many obstacles that children face in receiving a quality education, in part because of large class sizes and a lack of resources available to public school teachers. The work that Laura (Site Coordinator) and I do at Konojel is reinforce the instruction they receive in school through cooperative games and other activity that I hope enrich their lives and experiences beyond what they receive at home. In particular, Laura and I focus our time with them on literacy development in Spanish, Mathematics, and arts and crafts, as Konojel is fortunate to have many educational resources available for us thanks to international donors who support our work. These materials are extremely helpful as a tool for us to help them strengthen their skills as students, and as individuals.

More than anything I love doing arts and crafts with the children of the Konojel Enrichment Program. I spend a lot of time and energy planning the activities from Monday through Friday, and I can see that the children enjoy my effort; every day the first thing they ask me is “what are we going to do today, what will you teach us today?” and this to me is beautiful because it motivates me to push ahead and better myself in my work as an educator. Our goal at Konojel is educate the young people of San Marcos to have good values and to help them develop a desire to continue learning and to take on challenges that will make them better neighbors and citizens.

Konojel’s Director: Andrew Raphael

Andrew Raphael is the the founder and director of the Konojel Community Center, a project operating in rural Guatemala to address a crisis of poverty and malnutrition. This is his story:

Andrew Raphael getting work done at the Konojel Restaurant. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

I thought being a New York City school teacher was tough; I never expected to find life in a quiet Mayan village in Guatemala would end up being somehow more challenging, and yet, beautifully, it is. I left Brooklyn in 2011 after several years in the public school system, and found myself soon thereafter settling into a sleepy lakeside community where my indigenous neighbors spoke a language I’d never heard, wore clothes I’d never seen, and dealt with challenges I’d never imagined. My goal was to have no goal…after years of lesson planning, grading tests, night school and city living, I had the dream to settle into a completely foreign community and let life surprise me. Surprise me it did.

From my very first day in San Marcos La Laguna, a village of about 5,000 Kaq’chikel-speaking indigenous people, it was obvious that things were dire. A young mom struck up a conversation with me, and I quickly learned that she was supporting her four children on her minimal salary cleaning a local hostel. Her husband was gone, I still don’t know where, and looking back on that conversation I realize that one of those kids is now herself a 20 year old single mom, another is struggling with drug addiction and toying with the idea of joining a local gang, and the two younger boys are both at-risk of a similar fate. San Marcos is a community with a startling rate of poverty, despite its natural beauty, engaging and humble neighbors, and booming tourist industry. At least half of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition, and addiction and unemployment have led to 40% of families living on less than $2 per day per household, according to the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA). I’d been living here for over a year before I found myself accepting an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Andrew taking orders at the Konojel Restaurant, which is 100% non-profit, a way to raise funds for his community center. Photo by Joshua Lawrence.

It was late 2012 when I heard of a little program providing lunch to at-risk seniors, young moms and little kids who had been identified as malnourished by local health agencies, and thus were invited to participate in the Konojel Nutrition Center. I realized that I was in a position to keep the center open, as the previous director was unable to continue after founding it the year prior; I felt strongly that I had the duty to try and keep the program running, as I’d come to see many of my neighbors as friends over that past year, and I wanted to do something to help them break the cycle of poverty I witnessed day after day. I didn’t come to San Marcos to help anyone but myself, but I quickly came to see that helping myself would mean helping others.

Looking back I see so many of my strengths, and perhaps more weaknesses, led me down the path I’ve been on since then. I want to be a force for good in this world so badly that I’ve run myself into the ground and ticked off more than a few people; I’ve pushed Konojel to grow and work more holistically, such that our organization is both thriving and stretched way too thin; together with some amazing partners I’ve created new programs that help my neighbors earn a living to feed their own families, access technology to finish their studies, get dental care to relieve some of their daily pain, and other initiatives that have chewed me up and spit me out; I know personally each of the 60+ beneficiaries, their families and their stories, with whom I share lunch Monday to Friday, and more often than I’d ever wish I have to push those stories to the back of my mind in order to do my best for the organization that depends on me every day. I’ve seen the limits of my abilities and tried to push them. And I’ve come to see that the stressed out schoolteacher who left Brooklyn almost seven years ago is not an aberration, it’s who I am no matter where I am.

Konojel has become a point of pride, not just for me but, incredibly, for many people who I admire and respect. We’ve opened a fund-raising restaurant where I’ve taught my co-workers to make many of the foods I miss from back home and use the profits to continue and strengthen our social programs. I’ve learned so much from the San Marcos community, and I’ve had the great honor to surround myself with strong, intelligent women who are kind enough to trust me to do my best for them. Pride may be a sin, and certainly the downfall of many, but I’m proud of the work I’m doing here because it allows me to have a positive impact on the people around me in a way I never felt teaching hundreds of students a week in public schools in New York. Nor is my goal to fix everyone’s life for them, or hand them a better future; during my six years running Konojel we’ve created programs that empower people to raise their own standards of living, through their own efforts and hard work. Ironically, or perhaps not, Konojel has had the same effect on me.

Please join me today, on Giving Tuesday, and help me put an end to their suffering once and for all. If we raise $40,000 today, I can tell the people at Konojel, the people who I consider my family, that I can guarantee that they will have food and opportunities for the next year to come. Please, from the bottom of my heart, help me make this dream come true. Click below to donate!



Staff Spotlight - Laura Maria Sancoy, Children's Enrichment Program Director

Staff Spotlight – Laura Maria Sancoy, Children’s Enrichment Program Coordinator

The Konojel Community Center, previously Nutrition Center Konojel, began in September 2011 from humble beginnings. At first, the program focused on providing 65+ meals for the most at-risk demographics of the population—chronically malnourished children, pregnant or nursing mothers, and elderly citizens not being cared for by their adult children. Over the past few years, Konojel has gradually branched out into a number of other initiatives to more holistically support the community of San Marcos La Laguna, here on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Solola, Guatemala. One of these initiatives, the after school Enrichment Program, provides a space after lunch for 20-40 elementary school-aged children to play educational, confidence-building games, do their homework with adult supervision, enjoy being kids, and much more.

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