I never thought that we, as regular citizens, could have face-to-face meetings with high public officials, and bring them into our public actions to get their commitment to work with us in solving our community issues. Knowing how to do research meetings has led to very productive outcomes, and we are learning how to build strong relationships. - Manuel Ceron, El Salvador Organizer
PICO Central America formation. PICO Central America is the first international project of the PICO Network. In 2002, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, Honduras, reached out to PICO to explore his vision of developing grassroots leadership among ordinary people through the Central American Catholic Church. He saw PICO’s leadership development method as an important tool that complemented efforts by the church to fight poverty in all six Central American countries. Introductory trainings took place across the region over the next few years, and in 2008, Salvadoran grassroots leaders came together to launch their own organization, Comunidades de fe Organizadas para Accion (COFOA). A group of the bishops who invited PICO to Central America continue to support the development of Central American organizing work and the eventual building of organizations in each country.
PICO Central America builds the capacity of ordinary people to become leaders, demonstrating self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and bringing their faith values into the public arena to transform their communities into better places to live, where community members experience justice, dignity and equal opportunities. As grassroots leaders gain confidence and skills in negotiating with public officials, civic participation is strengthened and together they find solutions to community needs.
PICO/COFOA leader efforts have resulted in nearly 6 million dollars of public funding to repair streets, improve access to clean water and establish new public safety measures. We are pleased to report that after four years of determination and hard work, a strong, sustainable organization is operating in El Salvador through nearly 300 grassroots leaders, a new one is on the way in Guatemala, and we expect to begin working in Honduras in 2012.
PICO Central America leadership development. The time-tested PICO leadership development method is successful building leaders among very low, low and moderate income people in El Salvador and Guatemala in their parishes and communities. These grassroots leaders develop their own local organizations through congregational Local Organizing Committees that lead their efforts. On-going training and support results in strong, self-sufficient leaders who bring together their communities to identify their top priorities and take action on their own behalf.
Highlights of recent progress:
- 1,500 Salvadoran leaders and constituents gained the commitments of the Minister of Human Rights, a representative of the national General Attorney, mayors and police chiefs from the La Paz Department to lead a campaign against growing violence and crime called United Neighbors = Safe Neighborhoods.
- Santiago Apostol leaders in El Salvador held a health fair for more than 1,000 people, connected them with the local hospital, community clinics, and the Health Care Ministry and provided 5,000 units of medicine. They are now pushing for public officials to rebuild two rural roads that connect with the nearest large city to improve access to dependable health care.
- Leaders in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala, who are majority Kaqchikel Mayan women, got the mayor to clean up the 12 contaminated pilas across the city where they wash their clothes. Repairs are now underway and six have been totally rebuilt.
- COFOA Guatemala held their first candidates’ night in 2011, organized almost completely on their own. Despite a heavy rain storm, 800 people turned out for the forum, along with all four mayoral candidates. In addition to listening to COFOA leader priorities, all of the candidates agreed to meet with COFOA leaders within 90 days to discuss how the Office of the Mayor and COFOA can work together to resolve their key community issues.
- Leaders in San Pedro Nonualco, El Salvador, home to about 7,000 people, are tackling the issue of poverty. They have developed a pilot model to improve economic opportunity in their region by opening a store that will sell daily goods to local families. Fifty percent of the profits will be invested in their town, a portion will provide rebates to families every six months based on their purchases, and a portion will be reinvested to grow the business. Two COFOA leaders will run the store and earn a salary, and additional leaders will volunteer at the store and help with outreach to the community. A local board will manage the operation.