Salvadoran Institute for Indigenous Ancestral Resurgence

This Entry has been submitted.

Salvadoran Institute for Indigenous Ancestral Resurgence

El Salvador
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

María Eugenia Aguilar helps young Salvadoran people apply native knowledge and skills to modern business, instilling pride in indigenous culture and preserving community ties.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

According to the World Health Organization, poverty in El Salvador is concentrated in rural and minority populations. Lacking potable water, electricity, and modern healthcare only 1 percent of indigenous people can fulfill their basic needs. A March 2000 Earth Council Indigenous Peoples Programme National Report (Integrated Planning and Management of Land Resources in El Salvador) states that few indigenous children go to school, most work, and that the country's education system does not accommodate these children's culture and needs in the curriculum. Simply stated, without a proper education, young people cannot find good jobs and thus remain poor. Moreover, young people who do stay in school tend to emigrate in search of jobs. There are about a half million Salvadorans currently living in the United States and a half million more living in Mexico, Canada, and Europe. These numbers are particularly alarming given El Salvador's population of only six million people. Many of El Salvador's problems originate in its history of violence and discrimination against native peoples. Since the Spanish conquest, there have been two acknowledged massacres of indigenous peoples in El Salvador, in 1833 and 1932. In 1932 the government approved the death penalty for wearing native dress or speaking native language. The government expropriated land, leaving many indigenous people without homes or a means of survival other than hiding. The cultural assault continues today as indigenous school students learn to be ashamed of their origins and are not taught to recognize the strengths of their culture, such as respect for the environment and community. Despite their mainstream achievements, many successful Salvadoran business people and professors hide their identities because they fear the stereotype of American Indians as ignorant, stupid, drunk, and lazy. At this point, most Salvadorans honestly believe that no real indigenous people remain in the country. However, the census estimates that nonmestizo American Indians account for 7 to 10 percent of the national population.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

María Eugenia is helping El Salvador's native people break the cycle of poverty and maintain their cultural roots. By encouraging community organizing, enabling future business entrepreneurs, and actively pursuing educational improvements, María Eugenia is changing the way Central America searches for cultural preservation. In the past, the sales of handicrafts and art have generated considerable revenue for indigenous communities. However, this economic development is often achieved at the expense of native knowledge and traditional practices. Because María Eugenia asserts that this sort of commerce is detrimental to the cultural identities of young Salvadorans, she has developed a model that uses traditional wisdom and beliefs along with local technical knowledge to address new, far-reaching problems. By articulating the importance of source expertise like language, specialized ability, and environmental intimacy in the development of business strategies, María Eugenia places local people in a position of authority. She has designed a series of programs that help minority, often scattered, indigenous groups earn money, systematically conserve native expertise, and contribute to the mainstream without shedding their cultural identities. María Eugenia's work is expanding in El Salvador and has potential to reach indigenous people all over the world.