CoCoDA sponsored one of the first solar powered water projects in El Salvador in the village of Zacamil Dos.

The Walk of Death

For the fifty families of Aguacayo, access to water was difficult and dangerous. The village was built on a ridge and those needing water had to descend nearly a mile down a very steep ravine. Women often did this with laundry on their head, a large jug on one arm and a baby on the other. Over the years, many people were injured from falls as the traversed what came to be known as the Walk of Death. In rainy season, the trail sometimes became impassible.

He hadn't always been that way in Aguacayo. In the 1980s, before the Civil War erupted, Aguacayo was a thriving town with a water system. Unfortunately, Aguacayo was in the center of rebel territory. Much of the town was destroyed by bombing including the still ruined church. Eventually, most of its residents fled to refugee camps or the guerilla camps. When they returned at the end of the war, they returned to Aguacayo and the Walk of Death.

Delegates traveling down the steep incline that came to be known as the Walk of Death

In 2002, CoCoDA, the Municipality of Suchitoto, various Rotary clubs and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self Development of People partnered with CRC, REDES and the people of Aguacayo to rebuild the water system. The people of Aguacayo contributed much of the physical labor, laying the pipes in the difficult terrain. Most daunting and expensive was the cost of bringing electricity from the main road down the ravine and to the pump house.

In 2005, after three years of hard work and an investment of $80,000, the water system was completed, bringing water into the homes of fifty families. In the ten years since, water continues to flow even with many additional families moving to Aguacayo. The only people making the Walk of Death are technicians and crazy gringos who want to understand how radically life changed in Aguacayo.

Yunior Gomez

Yunior Gomez was born in January of 1985 in the Mesa Grande refugee camp in Honduras. His family was one of the many families that fled El Salvador when their communities were targeted by the military as rebel strongholds. Not everyone made it to refuge. In 1981, over 200 men, women and children were massacred as they crossed the Lempa River. Atrocities like these led many - including Yunior's father - to join the rebels.

In 1987, in the midst of the war, Yunior's family decided to return to their home in Santa Marta. They rebuilt a village largely in ruins. Life was primitive and dangerous. Yunior's father would be killed in 1989. His older siblings joined the resistance or worked to rebuild the community. In 1990, Yunior began school with teachers who barely knew how to read and write themselves. The future looked grim.

Yunior (on the left) and his twin sister being held by their mother in the Mesa Grande refugee camp.

Fortunately, in 1992, the war finally ended. Yunior could focus on his education rather than survival. Yunior's first encounter with CoCoDA was its sponsorship of his school and its teachers. From 1992 - 2002, CoCoDA supported and trained of Yunior's teachers, helping many of them earn certification and degrees. In 2002, Yunoir graduated ninth grade and was part of the first high school in Santa Marta. CoCoDA assisted the high school in creating a computer lab, the first of its kind in rural El Salvador.

In 2004, Yunior graduated from high school with no where to go. ADES, the local community development organization and CoCoDA, in response to the needs of Yunior and others initiated the creation of the Youth Leadership Education Campaign (YLC). YLC provided food and housing to Santa Marta youth who qualified to attend the University of El Salvador. In 2006, Yunior began his studies at the university.

After many years of hard work, Yunior Gomez graduated from the University of El Salvador in 2015 with a degree in English. In all those years, time and time again, CoCoDA was there to help him overcome the next obstacle to his education and success. Yunior likes to say, "Becoming the CoCoDA Delegation Director was a dream come true. I could finally pay back all those people who made this life possible."

While Yunior is one of the best examples of CoCoDA's commitment to education in El Salvador. He is not alone. Today, there are over 100 young people from Santa Marta that have successfully completed their education. Many have returned to Santa Marta to serve as teachers and leaders. Others are beginning to make a difference in other places in El Salvador.

Yunoir holding his diploma from the University of El Salvador.

La Mora Clinic

La Mora is a small village at the foot of the Guazapa volcano. During the civil war, this village and the volcano were the heart of the guerilla resistance. At the end of the war, CRC began organizing and supporting healthcare promoters in each village. Supplied with a simple first aid kit, these young men and women offered the only healthcare for many miles. Those who traveled to the hospitals were often imprisoned and tortured.

When the war ended, one of the first priorities for the communities was better healthcare. As one early leader said, "Health is a human right. Health is the basis of development for the communities. It is not possible to talk about wealth or well being without good health." In 1993, only a few months after the end of the war, the La Mora clinic was opened.

The front gates of the Clinic before the morning crowd arrives.

Over the years, many different organizations helped support the clinic, from the electric company, AES CLESA-CAESS to Resurrection Catholic Parish in Michigan. As a member of the Sistemia Basico se Salud Integral, La Mora is part of a network of grassroots clinics seeking to give communities control of their own healthcare. Part of this effort involved identifying and training local youth to become doctors and nurses.

In 2013, La Mora became a teaching facility for students from the Indiana University School of Family Medicine in the US. Four times a year, medical students spend four weeks living in La More and rotating through two clinic, the hospital and a local midwifery program. Throughout these many long years, CoCoDA has brought medical brigades, medicines, equipment, construction materials, physicians and nurses to help support La Mora.

In 2015, inspired by their time in La Mora, students from Indiana University raised money to begin the construction of a dental clinic in La Mora. Eventually, this clinic will host dental residents from the University of El Salvador.

A US medical student looks on as a patient is examined.