October 23, 2015
Maria Lizcano knows what it’s like to live in fear. She grew up in Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s when drug lord Pablo Escobar held the country hostage and tens of thousands of people died violent deaths each year.
She remembers walking to school and being afraid that cars she passed would explode as a result of hidden bombs. “Colombia is a beautiful country with beautiful people and I am proud of how it has turned around, but back then it was very dangerous,” she said. “It was a constant feeling of being scared for your life.”
In many ways, Lizcano’s childhood helped prepare her for her new role as Hispanic services coordinator for the YWCA Central Alabama. While she hasn’t had the same experiences as the domestic violence victims she works with, she does know what it’s like to be terrified and to feel helpless.
“Growing up, I always felt like I wanted to give my all to a good cause, to eliminating violence,” she said. “I felt called to work here and to do what I could to help.” Her presence fills a void at the YW, because the number of Hispanic victims seeking help has been growing steadily.
“I am very excited about this newly created position,” said Jennifer Caraway, director of domestic violence services. “There are often cultural barriers for Hispanic victims seeking assistance, as well as language barriers. Without an effective advocate, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for victims who don’t speak English to find the help they need. With Maria’s help, Hispanic victims now have greater success in navigating the court system and connecting with other available community resources.”
Lizcano, who moved to the United States when she was 16 after her mother married a man from Birmingham, eventually went to work for an immigration law firm. As a paralegal, she worked with many victims of domestic violence. “I always felt drawn to those cases the most,” she said. “I heard a lot of really good things about the YWCA because of our clients, and something was telling me I needed to get here somehow.”
The clients she has worked with have been grateful, and Lizcano said that being able to help them find the courage to start again is very rewarding. “You can actually see them start coming back to the world and feeling important again,” she said. “They realize that, ‘I can be on my own and be happy, and I don’t need to be destroyed by someone every single day.’ Seeing that is amazing.”
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