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Teaching gender equality from the beginning

In El Salvador, César Gàmez of PWRDF partner CoCoSI leads gender workshops with young children.

February 25, 2019

By Mike Ziemerink

CoCoSI Co-founder Brenda René Hubbard speaks at PWRDF’s National Gathering in Toronto.

In El Salvador, people living with HIV and AIDS and victims of gender-based violence often live in secrecy and isolation. PWRDF partner CoCoSI (Committee Against AIDS) is trying to change that.

In 1999, Brenda René Hubbard and local youth, including Elizabeth Membreño, founded CoCoSI with the aim of educating people in rural communities about HIV and how to prevent it. Today the organization has grown to protect and defend human rights across the country.

Hubbard was a physiotherapist at the Rehabilitation Centre in the community of Santa Marta. With the support of other staff who worked with people and had knowledge of HIV and AIDS, she set out to train and inform others of the risks, prevention techniques, all while battling the stigma that surrounded it.

CoCoSI provides opportunities for young people to organize and participate in classes and workshops on HIV and AIDS, inequality, gender-based violence, discrimination, bullying and hate crimes against people of non-conforming genders. Team members provide transportation, food costs and more so that everyone can participate in the workshops. CoCoSI provides funds to people living with HIV and AIDS to help with their monthly medical appointments and receive their Antiretroviral and other needed medications. They also make home and hospital visits.

Since 2002, CoCoSI has been coordinating with the Ministry of Health and the AIDS Clinic of Sensuntepeque working with a Self-Support group (persons living with HIV); and since 2004 with the Ministry of Justice and Security in the Sensuntepeque Prison working with a Self-Support group, a Peer Facilitator group, and with women using drama therapy and freedom writers methodologies to teach self-respect and self-awareness.

In 2010 CoCoSI received a Red Ribbon Award from the United Nations HIV and AIDS program celebrating the organization’s commitment and action toward HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The organization also produces a radio show that broadcasts education messages to remove the stigma against people with with HIV and AIDS, to educate about adolescent reproductive and sexual health, and raise awareness about violence against women and other gender-based violence.

Slowly but surely, the people of Santa Marta and rural communities in Cabañas who test positive for HIV are no longer living alone in the shadows. Through the work of CoCoSI they are fnding strength and community and good health.