About Us

Since 1992, CoCoDA has been connecting United States citizens, churches, service clubs, universities, and organizations with grassroots cooperatives and community development organizations in El Salvador. In 2016, we brought this same approach to Nicaragua. We have two simple goals…

  1. To build such strong relationships between the people of the United States and Central America that the United States will never again subsidize the oppression of Central Americans.
  2. To help rebuild the communities and infrastructure destroyed by United States dollars during the Salvadoran Civil War and Nicaraguan conflict.

In the process of accomplishing these goals, we also hope to transform the worldview of North Americans by helping them to understand both their privilege and responsibility as citizens of the United States and Canada

Our Mission

CoCoDA is a non-profit organization devoted to the mission of cooperating in projects for democratic, community-based social and economic development in Central America, and promoting awareness and social responsibility in the United States for more just relations with Latin America.

Our Values

Grassroots Organizing and Ownership

All CoCoDA initiatives and projects begin as the dreams and desires of Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. They plan, organize and own these initiatives and projects.


All initiatives and projects must be sustainable using the resources and ingenuity of Salvadorans and Nicaraguans.

Fiscal Responsibility

Every dollar donated to CoCoDA is intended to improve the quality of life for Central Americans and should be used as efficiently as possible. Staff should be paid equitably, but never extravagantly.

Ethical Engagement

CoCoDA attempts to do every activity with a commitment to ethical collaboration and a commitment to fair trade that does not exploit our partners.

Relationship Building

People are more important than projects. All initiatives and projects are designed to allow North Americans and Central Americans to work side by side, to become friends.

Cultural Sensitivity

All CoCoDA volunteers and partners are expected to participate in a two day historical/cultural orientation upon arriving in El Salvador or Nicaragua. CoCoDA volunteers spend at least part of their visit living with host families

Centre College working in the Greenhouse, Santa Marta - CoCoDA
CoCoDA delegations
Wooster delegation working in a school, CoCoDA

Benefited people


schools, community and health centers

total supporters

Community based water systems

Solar Powered Systems

More about us

CoCoDA projects are identified, designed, constructed and ultimately owned by our partner communities. The role of CoCoDA and our North American partners is to support these projects with financial capital and technical expertise. While there are often opportunities for delegations to physically work on these projects, this is an act of solidarity and not of charity.

CoCoDA projects, in order to be viable and sustainable, often take years to complete. Our primary goal is to nurture the capacity of the community, thereby enabling them to sustain the project upon its completion. In our experience, projects that are “gifts” from North Americans are harmful both to the recipients and to the donors. CoCoDA projects are true collaborations.

We ask every CoCoDA delegation to commit itself to furthering the progress of a project. First and foremost, each delegate contributes $200.00 to our project fund as part of their delegation fee. In addition, every delegation is given the opportunity to personally hear the hopes and dreams of the community, to work side by side with them, and – upon returning home – to raise dollars to support their efforts.

Yunior Gomez, current CoCoDA staff member, is pictured on the left as an infant refugee during the Civil War. Yunior was a CoCoDA scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of El Salvador before joining the staff of CoCoDA.
Yunior Gomez, former director of operations in El Salvador, is pictured on the left as an infant refugee during the Civil War. Yunior was a CoCoDA scholarship recipient and graduated from the University of El Salvador before joining the staff of CoCoDA.
Our Roots!

Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA) has deep roots in the modern history of El Salvador, its long civil war and US foreign policy. Founded by North Americans and Salvadorans committed to helping refugees return to their homes in the late 1980s, CoCoDA has worked hand in hand with Salvadorans in war and peace. In the late 80s, Tim Crouse and DePauw University graduate Peter Melberg joined with Salvadoran José Pena and many others to organize Building With the Voiceless of El Salvador (BVES) as an act of solidarity with the people of El Salvador. Based in Washington, D.C. BVES lobbied members of Congress to support a sustainable peace and end the US military aid that indirectly funded violence, torture, disappearances, and assaults on the human rights of the population by the El Salvadoran government.

Even as the war continued, BVES assisted refugees in returning to communities leveled by the war. The needs were tremendous. The Salvadorans had no dwellings, no means of cooking, no way of growing food, no jobs, and no education or health facilities. In assisting in the rebuilding, BVES worked with Salvadoran organizations such as the Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel, the Lutheran Church of Medardo Gomez, Comadres, and resettlement groups such as the Commité para la Reconstructión de Cuscatlán y Cabañas (CRCC).

These guerillas fought for freedom and democracy. Javier Martinez (third from the left) became the Vice Minister of Security for El Salvador and Morro (fourth from the left) became the Director of CRCC, one of our community development partners in Suchitoto.
These guerillas fought for freedom and democracy. Javier Martinez (third from the left) became the Vice Minister of Security for El Salvador and Morro (fourth from the left) became the Director of CRCC, one of our community development partners in Suchitoto.
Ending The War

In 1990, a BVES delegation brought three campesina women from La Mora, a rural community in the conflict zone, to the US Embassy. For the first time, the Embassy listened to input directly from campesinas. These women presented photos showing that the US supported Salvadoran Air Force had dropped 500 pound bombs very close to their homes. This was in direct violation of the La Palma Agreement that aimed to facilitate negotiations for Peace Accords. This bombing demonstrated that the government was not negotiating in good faith with the guerillas.

After this meeting, the US ambassador visited the countryside, met with the campesinos and guerillas, and heard their side of the story. Thanks to this and many other efforts, the US government began pressuring the Salvadoran government to end the war. On January 16, 1992, the Peace Accords were signed, ending more than twelve years of conflict. A BVES delegation from DePauw and Berea Colleges and Madison County, KY, was in the country and celebrated with the people.

The Peace Accords are signed in 1992, ending twelve years of war.
The Peace Accords are signed in 1992, ending twelve years of war.
Rebuilding A Nation

With the signing of the Peace Accords, the mission of BVES changed. While land redistribution was mandated by the accords, Salvadorans needed assistance in securing land and resettling their communities. They needed help rebuilding their entire infrastructure. In response, BVES was dissolved and Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA) was created in 1992.

The mission of CoCODA was to create the relationships necessary to avoid US sponsorship of another conflict and repair the damage done by US dollars. Central to this commitment was working in collaboration with Salvadorans. Salvadorans identified several priorities. Housing was badly needed. Clean water was vital. Education and schools were essential. Help in securing land titles was necessary. CoCoDA combined its resources with those of Salvadoran organizations and communities in seeking solutions to these issues.

One of the first CoCoDA delegation helps rebuild the village of Consolacion in 1993
One of the first CoCoDA delegation helps rebuild the village of Consolacion in 1993

For the past twenty-five years, CoCoDA has worked side by side with the people of El Salvador. We’ve brought over 2000 people to El Salvador in delegations. We’ve collaborated on water projects that have brought water to over 500 families. We’ve partnered in providing healthcare to over 12,000 Salvadorans. We’ve helped 140 young people attend university. We’ve funneled nearly $2 million dollars of investment to El Salvador and now Nicaragua through over 100 different development projects.

CoCoDA has been a major catalyst in support of education. While we’ve helped rebuild schools, our primary mission has been supporting teachers. For years “popular teachers” had taught with no pay using only the education they themselves had garnered. For the schools to be stronger, teachers needed to be educated and certified. This meant getting a high school degree and then a university diploma. In a nation where only about 1% of all youth attend college, CoCoDA has worked tirelessly to provide scholarships for students.

Potable water has always been a major problem in Central America. In the recent years, a coalition of US, Canadian and Salvadoran Rotary clubs, local, regional and departmental governments was drawn together by CoCoDA. Water projects were funded throughout the Municipalidad (large county) of Suchitoto. This huge effort has resulted in 90% of the communities having sustainable potable water systems. More importantly, these projects are owned and run by the communities. In 2010, CoCoDA led in the construction of the first solar powered community based water system in El Salvador.

Finally, CoCoDA has always been involved in the important work of public health. This support has included medical brigades, rebuilding clinics, raising money for medications and equipment and supporting Salvadoran health care workers. In 2012, CoCoDA began a relationship with the Indiana University Department of Family Medicine to engage their students in cultural immersion and clinical experiences. This partnership is creating mutually beneficial opportunities for these students and their Central American counterparts.

Throughout its history, CoCoDA has brought delegations from the North to El Salvador and now Nicaragua to learn and be changed. While they’ve worked on and supported projects, their greatest contribution has been an open heart and mind. All delegations spend many hours in orientation, meeting with representatives of the major political parties and visiting places important in the recent history. People deeply involved in the conflicts tell their stories. Delegates stay in homes in the various communities where they will work. They interact with the families, work in the ‘kitchens’ , weed the fields, and go swimming in the local swimming holes while tearing down bombed buildings and building new schools. This unique interaction between the delegates and the Salvadorans opens wide the window for growth in understanding of all involved.

Recent Events

In September of 2010, Ivan Villasbôa became the Executive Director, the Board was reorganized and our efforts were further expanded. In 2014, Jim Mulholland became the Executive Director and Ivan moved to Program Director. In El Salvador, staff member Yunior Gomez joined us as Delegation Director.

In June of 2016, the CoCoDa Board voted to fulfill a long held dream and expand operations into Nicaragua as the first step in expanding operations across Central America. CoCoDA began work in the Masaya, Nueva Segovia and Somoto regions of Nicaragua. In 2017, Richard Sanchez became our Delegation Director in Nicaragua.

While the faces and destinations change, the mission and work remain the same. CoCoDA continues the work of solidarity with the people of Central America, supporting the dreams and aspirations of the children and grandchildren of those refugees that BVES worked with in the 1980s.

CoCoDA was born in response to US sponsored violence in Central America. This timeline positions our work in that tragic history…

1979 The Sandanistas overthrow the brutal Somoza dictatorship

1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero is assassinated

1980-1988 The Contra War claims over 60,000 Nicaraguan lives

1980-1992 Salvadoran Civil War, claiming over 70,000 lives

1986 Building With the Voiceless (BVES) created to lobby against US support of the Salvadoran government

1989 Jesuits murdered in San Salvador

1992 El Salvador Peace Accords signed

1992 BVES becomes Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA)

1993 CoCoDA leads first delegation to Santa Marta, El Salvador

1993 – 2000 CoCoDA works on housing, land reform, public education and constructing schools

2000 CoCoDA begins to focus on water and sanitation as well as education and public health

2005 CoCoDA completes first water project in El Zapote, El Salvador

2009 FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes becomes President of El Salvador

2010 CoCoDA and Rotary International complete the first solar powered water project in Zacamil Dos, El Salvador

2016 CoCoDA expands into Nicaragua with first delegation to Zacataloza

2018 Archbishop Oscar Romero is sainted.

This brick—tossed into the ocean when the Salvadoran Civil War demolished hundreds of buildings—has been worn smooth by the cycles of the tides. The injuries of war, natural disaster and poverty have likewise transformed El Salvador and Nicaragua into resilient cultures of strength and vibrancy; places of beauty and grace.
This brick—tossed into the ocean when the Salvadoran Civil War demolished hundreds of buildings—has been worn smooth by the cycles of the tides. The injuries of war, natural disaster and poverty have likewise transformed El Salvador and Nicaragua into resilient cultures of strength and vibrancy; places of beauty and grace.

The United States and Central America Are Deeply Linked

Millions of Central Americans live in the United States. They are neighbors, co-workers and fellow students. Central Americans living in the United States send billions of dollars home to their loved ones each year. El Salvador and the US actually share the same currency. All of this creates a unique and symbiotic relationship between the US and Central America. What happens in Central America impacts the United States and vice versa.

The History of US Interference in Central America

During the 1980s the US government directly intervened in El Salvador’s internal affairs and financially and militarily supported the right wing military dictatorship that was brutally and systematically killing and disappearing people by the thousands. In Nicaragua, the United States actually occupied the country in the 1920’s. In the 1980’s, the US supported the terrorist attacks of the Contra rebels in Niacaragua. To a lesser extent, the United States has interfered in the politics of every Central American nation, often giving tacit support to oppressive dictatorships.

These dictatorships often killed thousands of innocent civilians. CoCoDA was created in direct response to the humanitarian crisis created by the civil war in El Salvador. Sadly, there are few places in the world where US citizens bear as much responsibility for death and misery. In going to Central America, you assist the children and grandchildren of those we once helped oppress.


One of the indirect consequences of oppression is often grassroots organization. To this day, El Salvador and Nicaragua have some of the best grassroots organizations in the world. The Central American people are organized, creative and determined. They are not looking for charity. They are looking for real partners, people interested in building relationships as well as projects. When authentically engaged, they have much to teach those who visit from North America.

Closer And Less Expensive To Visit

While there are certainly places in the world with greater need, Central America offers many opportunities for US citizens to make a tangible and sustainable difference in the quality of life for those who’ve only lacked necessary resources. Six hours by air from most of the mainland United States, Central America offers an easily accessible cross cultural experience. Money spent on travel to other places can be invested in people and projects.

This world is full of many wonderful lands with varied opportunities to learn, grow, work and reflect.Every international trip expands your minds and alters your worldview.There are countless places you can make a difference in the lives of people and communities.

Why choose El Salvador or Nicaragua for international travel?


2020 Delegations

In 2020, CoCoDA will be facilitating delegations from the following organizations:

  • Centre College
  • Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Rotary International
  • College of Wooster

Why not join them?



Asociación de Desarrollo Económico Social, Santa Marta (ADES) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, formed on April 15, 1993, to attend to the economic and social needs of marginal communities, particularly the communities of repatriated war refugees in the northern zone of the department of Cabañas.

The objective of ADES is to contribute to the integrated development of communities in the department of Cabañas for the purpose of improving the quality of life and developing the organizational bases that will empower the communities to influence the definition and implementation of social and economic strategies on a local level. ADES works in the areas of popular education, women’s development, community health, community radio, and community organizing, with programs in five municipalities.


The Comité de Reconstrucción y Desarrollo Económico-Social de las Comunidades de Suchitoto, Cuscatlán (CRC) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, founded in November, 1988 by 11 communities resettled by people displaced by the war in the department of Cuscatlán. CRC served as a representative organization for these communities during the armed conflict, to help generate social, economic, political and moral support.

Since 1993, the CRC has worked to support the development of 30 affiliated rural communities, coordinating, facilitating, planning, promoting, and executing projects for integrated development to bring about an improved quality of life in the communities. The CRC has active projects in the areas of women’s development, popular education, community health, community radio, sustainable agriculture, reforestation and environmental conservation.


Fundación Salvadoreña para la Reconstrucción y el Desarrollo (REDES) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the mission of contributing to the improvement of the quality of life of the economically and socially disadvantaged population of El Salvador. Since 1988, REDES has worked with displaced and dispossessed urban and rural sectors of the Salvadoran population for post-war reconstruction and for sustainable social and economic development.

Guided by the principle that people need to be subjects of their own development, REDES manages programs on a national level in the areas of micro-lending and business training, land reform, housing, agricultural and livestock production, disaster relief and environmental conservation. CRC and ADES are both member organizations of REDES.


The Nicaragua Community Movement (MCN) was born in September 1978 as a social and community expression with the mission to foment the respect of the right to live, political and religious ideologies as well as the promotion of the welfare of people in the communities and barrios through volunteering, organized participation and solidarity.

The main areas of work include community health, disabled people, sexual diversity, housing, education, prevention of natural disasters, and consumers’ rights. All of these efforts are done with community participation, prioritizing children, youth and women. Since 2017 CoCoDA has worked with the MCN in the regions of Somoto, Madriz and Nueva Segovia.

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CoCoDA Intern Program

CoCoDA provides short term and long term internships for both Central American and North American students and young adults. These internships can be exclusively in Central America or in both the United States and Central America. Our internship program has several goals:

  • To improve language skills either in Spanish or in English.
  • To provide leadership and community development training.
  • To teach cultural interaction and collaboration.
  • To increase the capacity of CoCoDA to accomplish its mission.
  • Internships are not paid positions, but interns will have their living expenses covered for the length of their participation.

We are especially interested in interns interested in social media, communications, fundraising and website design.

Those interested in pursuing an internship should contact us at info@cocoda.org.