Olga Silvia Teran Contreras
Fellow Since 2000
This profile was prepared when Olga Silvia Teran Contreras was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
The New Idea
Olga Silvia aims to do more than simply make traditional embroidery production professional, competitive, and profitable. She seeks to create an environment in which indigenous women feel more confident and have greater respect for themselves and for their cultural traditions through her organization Tun Ben Kin and its affiliated Maya Chuy (Mayan embroidery) project. She believes that only in this way will her project achieve its fundamental goals: greater autonomy for the embroiderers, gender equity, revitalization of the Mayan culture, and decreased emigration to large urban areas. Many activists have tried to improve the economic status of Mexican artisans by organizing them into collectives. Some have tried to use technology to transform a craft into an industry; others have tried to improve the artisans' skills and the recovery of their cultural traditions; and still others have pursued improved distribution and marketing. What sets Olga Silvia's work apart is her integration of all three approaches, combined with a deep concern for the pride and dignity of the artisans. She has developed a comprehensive training program to teach craftswomen the skills needed to make their work more efficient and profitable, while maintaining traditional Mayan designs and culture.