Peter Altman

Year Joined MKLM: 2013
Country: El Salvador
City: Zaragoza
Focus: Education, Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care
Project(s): Casa de la Misericordia (House of Mercy)
People Served: Migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons

Project Goal(s): Provide accompaniment and enrichment opportunities to migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons who are housed in the Casa de la Misericordia shelter.

Current Ministry:

Peter works in a small city in the La Paz department at a Catholic Church shelter for migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons. There are estimated to be almost 300,000 Salvadorans who have had to flee their homes due threats and violence. While some of these people find housing with family in other areas, many of them have nowhere to go. Caritas El Salvador established the Casa de Misericordia in 2016 with the goal of providing a temporary safe environment for these people. Many of the shelter’s residents are in process with the UN Refugee Agency or other NGOs in an effort to seek asylum; others have been deported back El Salvador from the United States or Mexico and cannot return to their hometowns because they have been targeted by the local gangs.

Because they have been targeted, the shelter’s residents are not able to leave the shelter. They stay within the building for 24 hours a day while their cases slowly work their way through complex national and international systems. The vast majority of people in the shelter are there as families. Peter’s role is to provide accompaniment and enrichment to the families during their stay at the shelter, which is usually from a few weeks to many months.

On a given day, Peter might offer an educational class, facilitate a group activity to integrate new residents into the shelter community, play games with the adults and children, organize an art activity, or simply listen to the residents as they share stories from their pasts and their hopes and fears for the future. Peter works with the Caritas staff to identify the needs of the residents and to find ways to meet these needs.

Peter says: “I have learned so much from the countless families I’ve accompanied at the shelter. I never cease to be amazed at how hopeful they are, despite having lived through such traumatic experiences. While their personal situations are worthy of tears and apprehension, the residents take every opportunity to laugh and find reasons for joy as they wait for the next chapter of their life to begin.”

Personal Data:

Peter, is originally from Bellerose Village, NY, and most recently lived in Long Beach, NY, where he was member of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Classics and Anthropology from Pomona College, CA, and a Master in Theology from St. John’s University, NY.  Peter was Executive Director of Good Shepherd Volunteers, an organization that works with children and women affected by neglect, poverty and violence. He taught History and Religion at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School and eighth grade at St. Cecilia School. Peter worked as a housing and school community organizer and as a lay pastoral associate at St. Peter Claver Parish, Brooklyn, NY.

Peter and his wife, Melissa, live in El Salvador with their two children, Elijah and Evangelina. Peter also has an adult daughter, Mariana, who lives in the U.S. and recently served as a Jesuit Volunteer.

Peter began his ministry in La India, a semi-rural community outside of Cojutepeque. Poverty was endemic and many homes lacked electricity and/or running water. Families struggled to make ends meet. Parents were often absent or working. This led to children spending their days on the streets and they became vulnerable to the gangs that recruited in the area. Peter provided educational, personal development and recreational opportunities to the underserved children and youth through San Juan Bautista Parish. He helped students stay in school by promoting reading and literacy. Peter encouraged children and youth to develop their unique gifts, talents and teamwork skills with games, other dynamics and painting.