Yunior Gomez, current CoCoDA staff member, is pictured on the left as an infant refugee during the Civil War. Yunior was a CoCoDA scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of El Salvador before joining the staff of CoCoDA.
Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA) has deep roots in the modern history of El Salvador, its long civil war and US foreign policy. Founded by North Americans and Salvadorans committed to helping refugees return to their homes in the late 1980s, CoCoDA has worked hand in hand with Salvadorans in war and peace. In the late 80s, Tim Crouse and DePauw University graduate Peter Melberg joined with Salvadoran José Pena and many others to organize Building With the Voiceless of El Salvador (BVES) as an act of solidarity with the people of El Salvador. Based in Washington, D.C. BVES lobbied members of Congress to support a sustainable peace and end the US military aid that indirectly funded violence, torture, disappearances, and assaults on the human rights of the population by the El Salvadoran government.
Even as the war continued, BVES assisted refugees in returning to communities leveled by the war. The needs were tremendous. The Salvadorans had no dwellings, no means of cooking, no way of growing food, no jobs, and no education or health facilities. In assisting in the rebuilding, BVES worked with Salvadoran organizations such as the Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel, the Lutheran Church of Medardo Gomez, Comadres, and resettlement groups such as the Commité para la Reconstructión de Cuscatlán y Cabañas (CRCC).
These guerillas fought for freedom and democracy. Javier Martinez (third from the left) became the Vice Minister of Security for El Salvador and Morro (fourth from the left) became the Director of CRCC, one of our community development partners in Suchitoto.
Ending The War
In 1990, a BVES delegation brought three campesina women from La Mora, a rural community in the conflict zone, to the US Embassy. For the first time, the Embassy listened to input directly from campesinas. These women presented photos showing that the US supported Salvadoran Air Force had dropped 500 pound bombs very close to their homes. This was in direct violation of the La Palma Agreement that aimed to facilitate negotiations for Peace Accords. This bombing demonstrated that the government was not negotiating in good faith with the guerillas.
After this meeting, the US ambassador visited the countryside, met with the campesinos and guerillas, and heard their side of the story. Thanks to this and many other efforts, the US government began pressuring the Salvadoran government to end the war. On January 16, 1992, the Peace Accords were signed, ending more than twelve years of conflict. A BVES delegation from DePauw and Berea Colleges and Madison County, KY, was in the country and celebrated with the people.
The Peace Accords are signed in 1992, ending twelve years of war.
Rebuilding A Nation
With the signing of the Peace Accords, the mission of BVES changed. While land redistribution was mandated by the accords, Salvadorans needed assistance in securing land and resettling their communities. They needed help rebuilding their entire infrastructure. In response, BVES was dissolved and Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA) was created in 1992.
The mission of CoCODA was to create the relationships necessary to avoid US sponsorship of another conflict and repair the damage done by US dollars. Central to this commitment was working in collaboration with Salvadorans. Salvadorans identified several priorities. Housing was badly needed. Clean water was vital. Education and schools were essential. Help in securing land titles was necessary. CoCoDA combined its resources with those of Salvadoran organizations and communities in seeking solutions to these issues.
One of the first CoCoDA delegation helps rebuild the village of Consolacion in 1993.
For the past twenty-five years, CoCoDA has worked side by side with the people of El Salvador. We’ve brought over 2000 people to El Salvador in delegations. We’ve collaborated on water projects that have brought water to over 500 families. We’ve partnered in providing healthcare to over 12,000 Salvadorans. We’ve helped 140 young people attend university. We’ve funneled nearly $2 million dollars of investment to El Salvador and now Nicaragua through over 100 different development projects.
CoCoDA has been a major catalyst in support of education. While we’ve helped rebuild schools, our primary mission has been supporting teachers. For years “popular teachers” had taught with no pay using only the education they themselves had garnered. For the schools to be stronger, teachers needed to be educated and certified. This meant getting a high school degree and then a university diploma. In a nation where only about 1% of all youth attend college, CoCoDA has worked tirelessly to provide scholarships for students.
Potable water has always been a major problem in Central America. In the recent years, a coalition of US, Canadian and Salvadoran Rotary clubs, local, regional and departmental governments was drawn together by CoCoDA. Water projects were funded throughout the Municipalidad (large county) of Suchitoto. This huge effort has resulted in 90% of the communities having sustainable potable water systems. More importantly, these projects are owned and run by the communities. In 2010, CoCoDA led in the construction of the first solar powered community based water system in El Salvador.
Finally, CoCoDA has always been involved in the important work of public health. This support has included medical brigades, rebuilding clinics, raising money for medications and equipment and supporting Salvadoran health care workers. In 2012, CoCoDA began a relationship with the Indiana University Department of Family Medicine to engage their students in cultural immersion and clinical experiences. This partnership is creating mutually beneficial opportunities for these students and their Central American counterparts.
Throughout its history, CoCoDA has brought delegations from the North to El Salvador and now Nicaragua to learn and be changed. While they’ve worked on and supported projects, their greatest contribution has been an open heart and mind. All delegations spend many hours in orientation, meeting with representatives of the major political parties and visiting places important in the recent history. People deeply involved in the conflicts tell their stories. Delegates stay in homes in the various communities where they will work. They interact with the families, work in the ‘kitchens’ , weed the fields, and go swimming in the local swimming holes while tearing down bombed buildings and building new schools. This unique interaction between the delegates and the Salvadorans opens wide the window for growth in understanding of all involved.
In September of 2010, Ivan Villasbôa became the Executive Director, the Board was reorganized and our efforts were further expanded. In 2014, Jim Mulholland became the Executive Director and Ivan moved to Program Director. In El Salvador, staff member Yunior Gomez joined us as Delegation Director.
In June of 2016, the CoCoDa Board voted to fulfill a long held dream and expand operations into Nicaragua as the first step in expanding operations across Central America. CoCoDA began work in the Masaya, Nueva Segovia and Somoto regions of Nicaragua. In 2017, Richard Sanchez became our Delegation Director in Nicaragua.
While the faces and destinations change, the mission and work remain the same. CoCoDA continues the work of solidarity with the people of Central America, supporting the dreams and aspirations of the children and grandchildren of those refugees that BVES worked with in the 1980s.