El Salvador Partners
CoCoSI, the Committee Against AIDS
Activities include: awareness raising; breaking down stigma and discrimination; education for teenagers; young adults; women; and increasingly, men – especially in rural and remote areas.
In a modest farmhouse in rural El Salvador, 30 teenagers and young adults gather to discuss and plan their work as CoCoSI, the Committee Against AIDS, that in a play on words also means “Brains (Head), Yes!”. CoCoSI was established in 1999 by a group of eight high school students from Santa Marta, a community of returned refugees who spent several years in exile in Honduras during El Salvador’s civil war of the 1980s. With the support of Brenda Hubbard, a U.S. physiotherapist resident in Santa Marta, the group has grown considerably and today the focus of its work is on education and awareness-raising of HIV and AIDS in CabaÃ±as province and four communities across the border in Honduras.
Nation-wide there are 13,000 reported cases of HIV and AIDS, 84 of which are in CabaÃ±as. Only three of these 84 receive anti-retroviral drugs. CoCoSI members emphasize that these figures only reflect reported cases and that the real figures are much higher and are on the increase. They have found that overcoming stigma and discrimination has been a huge challenge in a context in which sexuality is not talked about and where the very existence of HIV and AIDS is questioned.
CoCoSI runs workshops in schools with teachers, students and parents as well as, with health professionals, in military and police detachments and in prisons. The group also accompanies those living with AIDS, some of whom have come to collaborate with CoCoSI. As well, they have taken on other challenges, either as a group, or individually: volunteering as journalists and commentators for the local, alternative radio station Radio Victoria, launching a community program to overcome domestic violence, leading awareness workshops on the national political reality and launching a local news bulletin that also provides political analysis of broader, even global, themes.
What difference has the partnership with PWRDF made? PWRDF is one of several organizations that supports the work of CoCoSI. In its 2006 report to these funders, CoCoSI noted that after three years of trying, in 2006 they were finally able to establish six groups made up exclusively of men who are receiving workshops on HIV and AIDS, gender, sexuality, masculinity and domestic violence. In a macho, socially conservative society, this is a major achievement! PWRDF entered direct partnership in 2006 (previously support was through ADES for which CoCoSI is one of several projects) and anticipates completion of partnership 2009.