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Project Salvador
                                                     a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
                                                TAX ID #: 84-1207953

PICO Community Organizing
COFOA Activity Reports:

 


COFOA leaders in San Pedro Nonualco open cooperative store with seed money from Project Salvador and Retiro 2012.


 

PICO--COMMUNITY ORGANIZING TO SOLVE LOCAL PROBLEMS



History


The PICO El Salvador Community Organizing Project is building local leadership capacity to address local, regional, and national issues in the areas of environment, public safety and government accountability.


 

PICO is a national and international, nonpartisan multicultural network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Founded in California 1972 PICO has successfully worked to increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities and revitalize democracy.  The PICO model became active in El Salvador in 2006 where it operates under the name of COFOA Spanish initials that stand for “Communities of Faith Organized for Action”.  Project Salvador supported COFOA with a $10,000 grant last year and we will renew our support with another $12,000 grant for 2010.  Both grants have been used for the training of community leaders.

 

The most important objective of COFOA is the “formation of leaders conscious of the values of their faith who, acting as true Christians in public life, facilitate negotiation and dialog with the authorities in order to seek solutions to their problems and avoid intolerance and violence that only result in pain and resentment”. COFOA is helping engage ordinary Salvadorans, especially youth, to participate in public life to bring about change.

 

The most important tool in organizing for change is “one on one” or “uno a uno”. The goal of “uno a uno” is to initiate and/or deepen relationships with families through individual family visits in congregations or communities in order to understand their needs and concerns - with the notion that once there is understanding of the needs of their families, community members will be more likely to join together to address issues in their communities.

 

In COFOA’s congregation-based community organizing model, congregations of all denominations and faiths serve as the institutional base for community organizations. Rather than bring people together simply based on common issues like housing or education, the faith-based or broad-based organizing model makes values and relationships the glue that holds the organizations together. COFOA builds community organizations based on religious congregations, schools and community centers, which are often the only stable civic gathering places in many neighborhoods.  COFOA helps congregations identify and solve local neighborhood issues before addressing broader issues at a city, state or national level.

 

COFOA provides intensive leadership training that teaches people how to use the tools of democracy to improve their communities.  COFOA teaches the art of compromise and negotiation.  As a result ordinary people, who have learned to successfully use the levers of power to bring resources and political attention to their communities, lead community organizations.  COFOA brings people together based on faith and values not just issues or anger.  COFOA does public business in public through large action meetings. As a result, COFOA organizations gain the reputation for being able to gather together large numbers of people to hold themselves and public officials accountable.

 

The preceding describes what COFOA is all about and its basis of operation.  In the following section I will describe COFOA in action at a community meeting that I witnessed in June 2009.

This past June COFOA leaders brought together over 600 residents from 7 parishes and two civic organizations to engage with civic authorities and press them to solve public safety and environmental problems within the community.  One of the problems is the lack of the enforcement of traffic regulations and the absence of pedestrian overpasses.  During the past 8 months 8 people have been killed and 39 have been injured trying to cross the major highway that passes by the community.  Another problem is the lack of potable water due to the contamination of the Pedro River which runs through the community.  Improperly disposed industrial wastes and raw sewerage are the sources of this contamination.

 

On the afternoon of June 13, 2009, 600 residents filled the cathedral in the community of Zacatecoluca. Two youth volunteers trained by COFOA ran this meeting.  They introduced the civic authorities such as the National Police and the Mayors of various communities.  They also presented Bishop Elias Samuel Bolaños of the Catholic Diocese of Zacatecoluca and 3 members of the national legislature.  The Bishop gave a brief introduction about COFOA and then the volunteers introduced two members of the community, representing those most impacted by the lack of clean water and unsafe highway conditions.  One of these speakers was the father of a young girl killed before his eyes by a speeding car.  He spoke with a passion that brought tears to the eyes of many of those present.

 

Each of the three members of the Salvadoran national legislature presented their reaction to what they heard and spoke about what they would do to try to solve these problems.  Members of the audience acted with roaring applause when the three congressional representatives from different political parties agreed to introduce legislation that would lead to the construction of several pedestrian overpasses and water treatment plants.  After the speeches the three congressional representatives signed an enlargement of an agreement indicating that they would resolve the problems presented at the meeting.

 

The COFOA youth volunteers did an excellent job in managing the entire meeting especially by keeping all of the speakers within the time allotted for their presentations.


Inside the cathedral with about 600 community members
Youth leader trained by COFOA speaking before the community  with community leaders/officials to her left.

Youth leader trained by COFOA  helping speaker to keep track of their time.

David Rodriguez a national legislator representing  the FMLN party speaking before the community
One of the legislators signing the enlarged agreement.
The enlarged agreement.