Marilu Salazar Mendez: A Participant from Venezuela

  Written by Marilu Salazar Mendez

The Welcoming Center opened the door for me and gave me a beautiful experience and I want to do the same for others.

My name is Marilu Salazar Mendez and I love helping people. I have helped my family, sisters, nephews, and husband; helping others is very easy for me. I am from Venezuela, and I was born in a city called Merida where we have a common belief that people have to help and be kind to each other. What I value in life is confidence, truth, responsibility and sharing with other people. I try to look for the positive side of every situation and have fun because you have to enjoy life and make the best of it. I believe in giving my best in all the activities I do, and I enjoying the life that I have to the fullest. One of my dreams is to work less and enjoy life more, travel, eat well and enjoy moments with family and friends sharing food. I remember while in Venezuela, I would travel for 12 hours with my husband to spend time with family and friends, it was wonderful, and it will be again.

I studied accounting at the Universidad de los Andes in my hometown and I have a Bachelor’s degree in public accounting. I also studied at the Central University of Venezuela in the city of Caracas, which is the capital of Venezuela. I am a Specialist in Currency and Financial Institutions. My love for teaching inspired me to be a university professor of accounting, public management indicators, state auditing, account examination, internal control, writing audit reports, etc. I also volunteered for 6 years as a speaker at different state auditing conferences and worked as a state government auditor.

I offered myself as part of a group of neighbors in leading the operation of the building where I lived and other six neighboring buildings that asked me for support. I am still helping from a distance with the maintenance of the building where I lived, to make sure that the water services and elevators work for the majority of the people who live there who are elderly. With the political situation in Venezuela getting worse and with the problems of corruption and drugs, I did not feel safe staying in the country. There was no freedom of expression, public services collapsed, and my job was to verify that the state did its job within the law, which was complicated and risky; so, I had to leave the country. My family had left before, but COVID-19 made it difficult for me, but I was finally able to leave the country.

There have been moments when I have felt alone and at times, I go to the Fashion District and just get a cupcake to just feel happy and overcome the feeling because I don’t have my family here with me. I am not able to travel to my country where my husband is waiting for the humanitarian Parole, or to Spain or Italy where my mother and sisters are, I can’t even visit two sisters who live in Miami, but The Welcoming Center helped me a lot and I have felt busy having something good to do.

My experience with The Welcoming Center has been marvelous because it is like my home. One of the barriers that I faced when I arrived was feeling alone but at the Welcoming Center, I found other people feeling like me. I was connected to The Welcoming Center by my friend from Venezuela Anna Omana who works at Congreso and is part of Alianza Latina She talked to me about The Welcoming Center because her brother and sister were part of the Immigrant leadership Institute a long time ago and they also got a job through the support of The Welcoming Center.      

Attending the Immigrant Leadership Institute weekly felt like being home with my family and friends, coffee, food, and a time to enjoy. The action projects were challenging to overcome, especially due to the language barrier, but the experience of being with people was wonderful and it gave us a lot of experience. Being part of ILI helped me to discover that in this country it is easy and normal to do what I want to do, which is help other people. My goal to help people has been achieved a lot here because helping people is appreciated and is normal.

At first, I never thought that this would happen when I joined the Immigrant Leadership Institute. I thought that was an opportunity to get a job but when I arrived the first time, I realized that I am talking in English, I am with other people, am not alone every week and trying to figure out the presentations and the process. It was even better when I was able to meet friends like Liliya and Marsel. It was very good for me, and I felt so nice, It has been the best experience for me in the US ever since I arrived. All the things that I learnt helped me to overcome barriers of frustration, language, feeling bad and organizing with other people from different countries. Being part of an action team helped me meet Liliya who is like my girl, and I also met Lamia in my team who shared with us photos and videos of her wedding in Algeria. My other teammate Ida wants to help me to rent a house in the future when my husband arrives in the US. I also made a friend called Astrid who I was able to have a conversation with through her process of looking for a job and would like to help her. I also met Maureen, who is like a psychologist who shared with us her knowledge and experience in an easy way that helped us with a lot of love for everyone and connected with us with a lot of joy and passion.

I have been volunteering at a nonprofit organization called Gente de Venezuela  in a shelter in the city  called Welcome Center at 600 E Luzerne St area for the immigrants who were brought to Philadelphia in buses.

I receive the people who arrive and talk to calm them down, explain about the shelter services, the suppliers, SEPTA transportation and give them care bags. I also help with organizing the numerous donations that people give to the shelter. I also volunteer with Alianza Latina and am part of the logistics team for the event “Latin America Thrives in Philadelphia”, which will be happening on September 8, 2023, at the Love Park.

My best moment at The Welcoming Center was when I received my certificate during the recognition ceremony when I received a special recognition certificate. I keep coming back to The Welcoming Center because I want to help others feel as happy as I am, and I would love to help others in the new ILI cohorts. I have a lot of skills that can be very useful to share with other participants.

“The Welcoming Center opened the door for me and gave me a beautiful experience and I want to do the same for others.”

If The Welcoming Center was not there, my experience would have been difficult, I would have been lost even though I have a personality that can tackle problems, but…

The Welcoming Center has been the hand that has helped me cross the road like a mother would for a small child to take care of the nervousness and the dangerous things”.

My recommendation for The Welcoming Center is to have basic English classes. I have faced that barrier in this country and the people I help in the shelter hardly speak English, it is a barrier that they will have to overcome.

What I love about Philadelphia is going to Dilworth Park, watching the children play with the water springs and just sitting, having coffee, looking, and enjoying the imposing architecture of the city hall building in contrast to the modernity of the surrounding buildings, and looking at the sky and the flowers. To me it’s a magical place.

I am happy that now I can celebrate that I have my work permit and I can contribute to the growth of the economy of this beautiful city and this country which is one more step in achieving my dreams.

Finally, Thank you! I have many things to thank the Welcoming Center for and all my willingness to repay what you have given me.