Our trip to Central America has given US organizers a lot of time to connect with Central American leaders who organize in their communities. The deep level of ownership we have seen leaders live out in their local organizations of Communities of Faith Organized for Action (COFOA) has been tremendously inspiring. We are amazed about the similarities with the work that we are doing in the United States. Here are a few examples:
In Santa Cruz Portillo, El Salvador, we received a training from Oscar, a leader who is organizing youth leaders in eight different parishes to run their own youth groups so he can continue developing youth leadership groups in other parishes. We witnessed the commitment of leaders as they traveled long distances to attend leadership gatherings in spite of inadequate public transportation. We shared the value in our principle, ”Never do for others what they can do for themselves.” With a team of ten leaders, they carried out a 250-person action with the mayor. They are creating a culture of environmental responsibility in their town, and working to get the municipal authorities to change the garbage collection system.
In Los Calix, El Salvador, community members are just beginning research around access to health care. Tere, a new leader, talked about her learning of ”Power is taken, not given”: the health director attempted to run the leaders’ research meeting and stepped back when Tere spoke up and made sure her fellow leaders’ concerns were heard: ”Health care is a constitutional right, but we need to reclaim it.” Her team of twelve is now motivated to expand health care services to serve the needs of their community.
In San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala, Laura, a leader who has been involved in COFOA for over two years, shared with us how they were able to organize and educate the community around the destruction of the environment. They held an 800-person action in the rain and won major commitments from the candidate who became mayor. He has since revamped the recycling plant to add 10 employees, 2 trucks, and the recycling of organic waste to sell as fertilizer at a low price to farmers.
In San Juan Tepezontes, El Salvador, leaders shared the success of a 100-person listening campaign in a town of 500 families. They launched a research process and employed civic engagement to organize a candidates forum where they presented the platform and priorities of the community. They asked mayoral candidates to express their positions on the top issues surfaced in their listening campaign: access to potable water, alcoholism, and access to electricity. Five hundred people attended the forum and were able to educate themselves and make government work for them. After 18 years of a mayor who ignored the dire needs of the community and refused to attend the forum, a new mayor was elected who has already met with COFOA several times to address the issues the listening campaign surfaced. The leaders are committed to holding the new mayor accountable to carry out the improvements the community needs.
Quotes from COFOA leaders:
”I had always wanted to do this, but COFOA showed me how.” – Tere, Los Calix, El Salvador
”This is something revolutionary. We can change the country.” – Pedro Antonio, San Nicolas Lempa, El Salvador
”The people are waking up, slowly but surely. It is a new way that the church is showing us.” – Hernan Beltran, San Pedro Nonualco, El Salvador