Estela Petrona Simaj Rafael
iLEAP International Fellow, 2016
Estela Petrona Simaj Rafael, a Kaqchikel leader from Santa Cruz la Laguna, Guatemala is a “social communicator” who is passionate about promoting indigenous culture and improving life in her community. From the Guatemalan highlands, she uses the power of digital media to raise awareness about the environment, women’s rights, and health. She writes blogs about Santa Cruz’s history, geography, and traditions and publishes her original poetry. She has also appeared on local television and has worked as a reporter for the local newspaper.
Besides being a voice for change, Estela is an important community organizer.
Throughout her formal education and professional training, she received scholarships from Amigos de Santa Cruz, a Seattle based nonprofit that supports women and youth empowerment. Estela is now the Director of CECAP, an Amigos-funded vocational training center for women and youth in Santa Cruz.
Estela has faced serious cultural barriers in her career. “People in my community think that women cannot be leaders because machismo is a strong influence … and I want to change that,” she says. As Director of CECAP, she managed to win over a critical male voice from the local government, showing how they can form alliances: “Now this man has learned to trust me and see me as a leader.”.
As an iLEAP Fellow, Estela will meet other indigenous colleagues and women who have overcome similar challenges. What she learns will help her achieve a bold dream: to become the first woman mayor of Santa Cruz.