Mark Callaghan

Emprendedor social de Ashoka
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow desde 1991
This description of Mark Callaghan's work was prepared when Mark Callaghan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.


Mark is an artist and paper-maker with a strong interest in pre-Hispanic culture, which has led him to develop a community-based paper-making project that will provide the local Maya population with a potentially marketable product and a reintroduction to lost traditions.

La idea nueva

Over the years Mark has become something of a world expert on paper-making, and from his home in Merida, he and his wife have produced a wide variety of papers from vegetable fibers such as papyrus, rice and amate. More recently, he has made his own discovery: papaya paper.Now he wants to transfer his specialized knowledge to the local people of Yucatan so that they can produce paper within a carefully controlled ecological cycle, both for sale on the national and international markets as specialty papers, and with pre-Hispanic designs and stories printed on them for the tourist trade. A commercially viable proposition, Mark's project will also rescue a paper-making tradition destroyed when the Yucatan was colonized by the Spaniards.Mark is careful to insist on teaching communities how to make paper, however, this is not enough: they must also learn to exploit rationally, and thus preserve ecologically, the plants they use for paper-making.

El problema

Paper-making in the pre-Hispanic world was a thriving trade and there were innumerable towns that devoted themselves exclusively to this task. However, since the paper produced was used for writing codices that recorded tributes, genealogical history and indigenous knowledge-all anathema to the new world order of the 16th century-it was systematically destroyed. Perhaps the most famous event was the burning of the Mayan codices in the town of Mani in Yucatan by Bishop Landa in 1561. The art of paper-making, once a wide and useful tradition, was lost by the turn of the 17th century and only a handful of artisans kept up the tradition. Although Yucatan lived through an economic boom in the late 19th century when the state saw the rise of an extremely profitable hennequen (sisal) industry, the bottom fell out of this market at the beginning of this century. The local population never fully recovered since agriculture had been largely given over to growing the hennequen plant. Tourism, now a growing industry following the development of Cancun in the neighboring State of Quintana Roo and the consequent influx of international visitors to the Mayan ruins, is helping to alleviate the economic decline. However the tourist trade does nothing to help people stay on the land, let alone maintain the Mayan culture. The tourist industry, in fact, is speeding the culture's decline. It entices families to break up as some members migrate to work in the resort cities. Once there, young people especially are easily influenced by foreign and urban lifestyles, and begin to reject the traditional values and lifestyle.These are the two major threats that Mark hopes to help the Mayans meet. He hopes his new specialty papers, produced in environmentally sustainable ways from easily replenishable and diverse plants, will give many rural Mayan communities a strong, lasting new source of income. Moreover, by teaching the lost art of Mayan paper-making, he hopes to help restore the Mayans' sense of pride in their culture. The combination of income and pride should help sustain family, community, and culture.

La estrategia

She and her team care for each person and family they're helping; their thorough-going focus on the detail of each case flows naturally. It's a useful focus. First, it forces them to pursue every aspect of the case, which in turn forces them to see the whole system they're dealing with. One of the prison system's chief problems is that it is disjointed: each part does what makes most sense for it, commonly with imperfect knowledge of what the other parts are doing or need-let alone the incentive to come together to provide the prisoner with integrated service. Even before one factors in base incentives, it is a series of bureaucratic components, certainly not a "machine". Patricia recognizes that one of the dangers any reform approach faces is being drawn into the same divisive inability to deal with (a) each prisoner as a complete person and (b) his or her case as one process. That means that her model has professional responsibility for all aspects of each case they take up. It also means that she must eventually organize her service to cover each of the 18 prisons in the state and their feeder institutions. Otherwise she won't have the ability, e.g., to handle a man from one part of the state imprisoned in another. She plans to establish or encourage others to establish sister service/reform organizations in the other prisons now that her model approach is crystallizing, producing results, and winning acceptance even among prison officials. Even as she's increasingly thinking about spreading her work, Patricia is steadily developing her methodology. The functioning of the courts responsible for reviewing cases and determining jail sentences was disappointing, so Patricia has created an independent body monitoring the defense carried out in the six courts corresponding to Barrientos prison. They meticulously revise the case of every prisoner, consult with specialist criminal lawyers, and coordinate with the official defenders to put pressure on the courts to apply the law correctly and speedily. Finding affordable bail for program participants was a problem. Patricia developed a special revolving fund-and has been able to assure prompt, reliable repayments. She has increasingly been exploring ways to provide more support for the growing number of prisoners she has helped release. She's increasing the number of post-liberation visits to the prisoner and his family, offering much-needed psychological, moral, and practical support. Recently she brought together all the inmates for whom she had secured early release for a meal; the success of this experiment has led her to propose other gatherings of ex-inmates as a support group activity in the post-liberation phase. Patricia's understanding of the systemic causes of the troubled condition of Mexico's prisons is also growing. As it does, she and her colleagues are increasingly interested in pressing the authorities and society for legal reforms. Such changes could significantly reduce the now overwhelming demand for her case by case help. Patricia cites one example: if they could change only one clause in the code, and make it obligatory for witnesses to attend trials when requested, the prison population could be halved overnight, since over 50 percent of those in prison are there awaiting trials that never materialize owing to the non-presentation of witnesses. As her work takes hold, others are beginning to look to her. Recently the state of Mexico asked Patricia's foundation to submit proposals for the reform of the state's laws.

La persona

Mark moved to the Yucatan from the United States as a teenager with his anthropologist mother 20 years ago. Over the last two decades he has supported himself as an artist and teacher.Mark is more than an artist, an ecologist, and paper-maker: he is socially and culturally deeply committed to improving the lives of the Mayan Indians of Yucatan. He is fascinated by the role that he finds himself playing in reintroducing elements of pre-Hispanic culture and would like to extend his work eventually to other indigenous areas of Mexico. Such small-scale, culturally-rooted, economically strong, family-based industries could make an important difference to the survival of these peoples. Mark was elected an Ashoka Fellow in 1991.