Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center

Sustainable Water Projects: Documenting a methodology for El Salvador and Central America

Community Partner


Suchitoto, El Salvador. Google Map:


Companion Community Development Alternatives (CoCoDA) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1992 to cooperate in democratic, community-based economic and social development in Central America, and to promote awareness and social responsibility in the United States for more just relations with Latin America.

CoCoDA has two main objectives. The first is forming relationships “community to communidad.” We bring delegations from universities, churches, Rotary Clubs, and other organizations in the United States to live in Salvadoran communities; to learn about the county’s history, society, and development challenges; and to work on a service project in partnership with the local residents. The second major objective for CoCoDA is ongoing, capacity-building development work with a special focus on sustainable water projects.

The Challenge

Over the past five years, CoCoDA has implemented several highly successful community water projects near Suchitoto, a major municipality in the center of El Salvador. We believe the approach we have developed is a model for sustainable water development throughout El Salvador and, potentially, throughout Latin America. The CoCoDA approach achieves sustainability across the various challenges inherent in such projects: social, political, economic, and technical. We emphasize local responsibility, international partnership, consensus building, fiscal responsibility, and technical sustainability and scalability. We also have implemented what we believe is the country’s first community-based, community-owned solar-powered water system.

We want to work with a student to write a report called “Best Practices for Sustainable Water Development in El Salvador,” using our two most recent projects as case studies. Each is solar powered; the most recent involved convincing one community to share its water source with a neighboring community, and aptly demonstrates that sustainable water challenges are social and political projects first, economic and technical problems second. A student who has a firm technical grounding, excellent skills in analysis and writing, and an interest in sustainable development would be of great help to our effort to synthesize and document the lessons we’ve learned in our recent work. We believe that the student would benefit by becoming immersed in the full range of issues that underlie so much of the  work done in the developing world. Moreover, this student’s work will support the ambitious goal of creating a report with the potential to improve the way local water projects are tackled across all of El Salvador and, eventually, Central America.

Qualifications, Preferences, and Assets

  1. Spanish-language  skills a plus
  2. Good writing skills
  3. Excellent analysis, reasoning, and organizational skills
  4. Ability to investigate and understand complex problems and then break them down to their basic themes and challenges in a way that is clear, concise, and compelling
  5. Interest in sustainable development, urban planning, solar power/green technology

Time constraints

We would like to complete this project by the end of next summer. There are multiple opportunities for the student to travel with CoCoDA to El Salvador, including IAP and during summer break. Spring break is also a possibility.

CoCoDA is based in Indianapolis, so some work could potentially be done in the US, including, if necessary, by arranging for the student to come to Indianapolis. Moreover, a CoCoDA board member lives in Cambridge and works at MIT, and is available to assist at any time.


MIT students interested in developing projects around these ideas should contact Tom Gearty, CoCoDa Board Member,, 617 253 3951

PKG Center Support

MIT students who develop projects around these ideas may apply for support from the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center's Fellowships, Internships, or Grant programs. Please check the program descriptions and deadlines and talk to program staff to determine which is most appropriate for your needs and project.

If you want to volunteer or you have funding from outside the PKG Center that enables you to work on this project, that's great! However, please do let us know if you work on a project you saw advertised here, even if you don't use our funds. And remember, the PKG Center staff are happy to advise on service projects even if we are not funding them ourselves.

Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room W20-549, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
Tel: 617-253-0742  ·  Fax: 617-258-9357
Web:  ·  Email: