María Eugenia Aguilar Castro
Fellow Since 2000
Salvadoran Institute for Indigenous Ancestral Resurgence
This profile was prepared when María Eugenia Aguilar Castro was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
The New Idea
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.