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Liz Cunningham

Year Joined MKLM:

Country: El Salvador

Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza

Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola community center

Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training

Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community, particularly children, adolescents and women.

Ministry Context:

Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water, and electricity. The area is gang-controlled, and the people live under the constant threat of violence. Nationwide statistics illustrate the educational and employment needs and challenges: roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).


Current Ministry:

Bob and I are assisting with the many programs that El Patronato offers the community, including the Women’s Collective, the After-School Reinforcement (Refuerzo) program, and the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group.

Our day-to-day work varies widely, for example: helping children with their homework and organizing recreational activities; participating in workshops with the teens and hosting English conversation sessions at our house while engaged in activities such as cooking and yoga; making chocolate that is sold to support the Women’s Collective; planning events and programs; organizing and distributing food supplies to families in the community; planting and maintaining the community garden while teaching the children about the environment and nutrition; and participating in workshops with other nonprofit organizations.

In addition to working in El Zaite, we sometimes attend Sunday Mass at Mariona Prison outside of San Salvador and are looking for opportunities to serve in prison ministry there as needed.

Living in Zaragoza impacts our work because we are part of the community. We see the families we work with as we walk through town, when we stop in the grocery store and when we attend church on Sunday. We are getting to know more people in the El Zaite community as we walk on hilly terrain to the community center. Every time we see some of our refuerzo students at Mass, they are excited to tell us on Monday morning.


Personal Data:

Liz grew up on Long Island as part of a large Catholic family. After graduating from St. John’s University with a degree in business management, her work experience has included commercial banking in New York City, fundraising for the Jesuit province and working as a major gift officer for the Inspiring Hope Campaign at the Boston Archdiocese. Her best job has been being mom to her three children, Andrew, Grace and Mary with her husband and fellow missioner, Bob.

Liz spent many years as a volunteer at her parish, St. Catherine’s in Westford, Massachusetts, was involved with Cursillo and learned about Ignatian spirituality in the 10 years she worked for the Jesuits. She credits this and more importantly the influence of her parents, husband and children, with leading her to Maryknoll. She remembers the Maryknoll magazine coming to her house as a child and daydreaming about serving. She was thrilled to learn years later that Maryknoll had lay missioners that serve around the world and that she and Bob could participate together.