Copyright 2015 @ SSJ Welcome Center

Educating and Serving Philadelphia’s Immigrant Community

Immigrant Spotlight:

The PEACE Program

The PEACE Program for Immigrants (Programs for Education, Awareness, Collaboration, and Empowerment for Immigrants) has been established thanks to a fine group of women who formed the steering committee. We would like to take this opportunity to focus on one of the founders, Lizam Morales. At this present moment, Lizam is involved with Latino TEACH, the Catholic Worker House of Grace and with the SSJ Welcome Center. In recent years Lizam has been studying English, taking computer classes and has earned her GED. She continues to learn English and prepare for citizenship. But what is the back story? How did Lizam get from Guatemala City to the city of Philadelphia? What were some of her experiences along the way?

Born and raised in Guatemala, she married at the age of 22. Her husband left shortly thereafter for the United States, and told Lizam to follow one week later. So in 1995, alone, unfamiliar with life outside of Guatemala, speaking only Spanish, Lizam undertook the trip. Eventually she arrived in Arizona and then traveled to New York City to be with her husband. To say she was not welcomed by her husband, his brother and mother would be an understatement. What began as an uncomfortable situation soon became an overwhelming experience of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. What feelings of fear, terror, isolation and loneliness must have engulfed Lizam. Although the birth of their son Steven was a great joy to Lizam, her day to day situation did not improve. In fact, it became so bad that Lizam had to be admitted to the hospital. With the help of the social worker at the hospital, Lizam and baby Steven were transported to a shelter in Chester, Pennsylvania. After living there for a few months, and working at odd jobs, Lizam moved to a shelter in Philadelphia, and then to a small apartment. Again, Lizam found work, although the long hours and low pay did not help to cover the necessities of life for Steven and her.

During a prolonged hospital stay, she lost her apartment. She and Steven became homeless and had to live on the street for a while. The wonderful women at House of Grace Catholic Worker House took them in and provided a loving environment for them. After spending some time there getting back on her feet, Lizam found her way to the SSJ Welcome Center. She has taken advantage of the many opportunities offered to her, and over the years has become a leader among the “dear neighbors” who come to us.

Lizam believes that her past experiences have strengthened her to reach out to others who may find themselves in similar situations. Her resiliency and resourcefulness continue to provide a sense of direction and purpose to her life. Her outreach to so many of our friends here is invaluable. We are grateful that Lizam has become such an integral part of our ministry here and has chosen the SSJ Welcome Center as her “second home”.

Connie Trainor, SSJ