My name is Elizabeth Membreño and I was born in the Mesa Grande Refugee Camps in Honduras. During the Civil War, when I was very little, my family returned to their native lands located in the conflictive zone of Cabañas, El Salvador.
When I was 15 years old, I and some of my friends founded the youth organization called the Asociación Comité Contra El Sida, Cabañas (CoCoSI). There was no HIV education or prevention in our rural communities, and we saw that we had to do it ourselves. At that time there were no educational opportunities. My family did not believe that an education was important for their children. The only alternatives for us youth were to become mothers, housewives and work in the corn and bean fields.
CoCoSI is where I acquired most of my work experience, I have met and made friends from other communities and countries. CoCoSI has provided me other life’s experiences outside of our communities and outside of El Salvador. I found that I have many abilities that were hidden. I have discovered all the good things I can do. My self-esteem has greatly improved; as a child I lived under a repressive system in the community due to poverty, poor nutrition, the civil war and very little communication between parents and children. All these experiences combined have helped me grow as a person and as a mother.
I believe that if CoCoSI did not exist my life would be totally different; a life without opportunities to develop as a woman, as a mother. CoCoSI allowed me to see outside of myself, allowed me the opportunity to pursue my education and not be satisfied with being intellectually stagnant. CoCoSI inspired me to create and continue educating myself and others; to look to the future as an empowered woman, with the spirit to go forward, not only in my personal growth, also be able to see growth in other persons with whom I work.
My hope is to continue growing and learning, to be a better woman, mother, student and worker; to move forward, and learn how to overcome each new obstacle. I want a better childhood and future for my son. I want the best possible for the people we work with, the most impoverished and discriminated against in rural Cabañas.
PWRDF partner Asociación Comité Contra El Sida, Cabañas (CoCoSI) was founded in 1999 by Salvadoran youth born in the Mesa Grande Refugee Camps during the 12 year civil war. Seeing that their communities were deprived of HIV prevention education, they took on the task. They soon realized that HIV prevention is impossible without addressing inequality, gender based violence, discrimination, bullying and hate crimes against persons of non-conforming genders. Today CoCoSI continues to provide opportunities for youth to develop and implement workshops in rural communities, schools and the local prison. In 2010 CoCoSi received a Red Ribbon Award from the United Nations HIV/AIDS program.