As a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, Janet McLaughlin Olson '02 and her husband Pete Olson '02 learned about the indigenous people there. Modernization has pushed the Shuar people and their culture into a state of decline.
Olson hoped to rescue components of Shuar culture by preserving traditional craftsmanship, and to provide a source of income for marginalized people. The program's emphasis on women was intended to help them build a sense of worth and identity apart from their husbands.
Olson's project accomplished these goals by combining cultural preservation with income generation. "I developed an alliance with several community members who started a corporation dedicated to preserving Shuar culture, improving the quality of life for the Shuar, and promoting their social development," Olson explained to Grinnell Magazine.
The project involved a series of workshops, led by Shuar elders, to teach other Shuar how to make traditional artisan goods, as well as basic income management skills. "The combination of a dedicated Shuar organization [Corporación UNSA] with the knowledge and resources that Pete and I have will produce results much greater than each of us working separately," she says.