PICO (People Improving Community through Organizing), was founded in 1972 by Jesuit priest John Baumann in Oakland, California. PICO’s mission has remained constant for the past forty years – to develop leaders through faith institutions who exercise the power needed to build a more just and equitable society. During this period, PICO has effectively addressed health, education, employment, community development, safety, immigration and other issues. PICO has emerged as one of the strongest community organizations in the United States.
Seeing the power of the PICO model, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez invited us to explore organizing in Central America in 2003. In the past ten years faith leaders have invited PICO to work in Rwanda and Hait as well. PICO chose to respond because we recognize the global nature of our issues, the impact of US power in these countries and the mandate of our faith to be brothers and sisters to all. PICO International has provided ongoing consultation and technical assistance to establish locally owned organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Rwanda and Haiti. Staff, clergy and grassroots leaders in each of these countries are making significant progress. With a relatively small investment, organizing has involved thousands of people and achieved significant results.
Ordinary residents, especially women, are providing grassroots community leadership that enables them to act on opportunities that improve local health, economic and social conditions. These grassroots leaders are driving sustainable economic development projects that lift the living standards of the entire community. As leaders gain experience, they come together to examine and develop the means to address policy questions at a national level. To bring these efforts to scale, PICO will support formation of regional training centers in Central America, Central East Africa and the Caribbean, teaching organizers, clergy and leaders to undertake local development projects and build relational networks needed to influence policy at the national and regional level. It is our longer term goal to network organizations in developing countries with those in the United States to form alliances and influence policies to reduce poverty and increase equity. In the process, we believe we can invigorate the practice of democracy, enliven faith institutions, provide the basis for sustainable economic development and promote human dignity.
Leadership teams from congregations across La Paz Department have organized thousannds of people who have held health fairs, clean up campaigns, and re-opened a community health clinic; won dependable, clean water; repaired roads, parks, and bridges; instituted community policing and other measures to increase safety; and gained new services for under-served young people. Fifty leaders from these communities are shaping two national campaigns. In coalition with 40 other organizations, they are working to insure people’s rights to clean and affordable water. They are also engaged in a campaign to address issue of violence resulting in escalating rates of homicide, extortion and migration.
Leadership teams in Zacatecapez Department have organized 1800 people who have tackled community clean-ups, violence prevention strategies and access to clean, safe public laundry facilities.
Interfaith leadership teams are organizing in six communities. In Mumeya, they involved 5,000 people in community projects, completing construction of a 38 room clinic serving 30,000; construction of road, disease prevention center, community education center, water and electrification projects; and formation of an agricultural co-op;and training others. In Nyange, women trained to make and market roofing tiles have completed construction of two homes for village women. In Matimba, leaders have completed an elementary school for 300 students. In Kigali, 150 women are operating hair dressing and produce market coops. At Cristus Center, 40 youth seek to promote pathways to youth employment. In Rusumo, leaders have cleared ground for construction of a community health clinic.
Our newest organizing effort, more than 100 clergy and leaders have formed local organizing teams in all 13 communities in the rural Northeast Department. They are engaged in self-help projects like cleanup, reforestation and road construction. They have secured mini grants and are operating successful fishing, agricultural (vegetable, sorghum, and peanut), and livestock (chicken) cooperatives to improve economic conditions in five communities.