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For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR


Children draw during class at the Yes We Can school in Tijuana.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR


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Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Children draw during class at the Yes We Can school in Tijuana.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

In a small shelter made of cinderblock walls and a tin roof, Armando Hurtado Medina writes on a whiteboard the size of television sets in many American homes.

It’s 6 p.m. and class has just started in this makeshift classroom at the end of a bumpy dirt road that winds through a canyon in Tijuana, Mexico. Hurtado Medina teaches basic English and about 10 students of different ages slowly recite the alphabet to him.

In another part of town, Sergio Garcia has just finished his day teaching a group of children about emotional intelligence, guiding them on how they can turn the anger and trauma they feel into something. something productive, like leadership.

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Sergio Garcia teaches a class at the Yes We Can school.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR


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For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Sergio Garcia teaches a class at the Yes We Can school.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

These efforts are replicated across the border town as volunteers and grassroots organizations prey on a transient population of migrant students and do their best to educate those who find themselves in shelters awaiting a better life elsewhere. of the.

“The goal of this school is for migrants to have a basic understanding of English,” Hurtado Medina said. “Like how to get out of an emergency situation, [or when] they don’t know how to communicate, or they don’t know how to translate basic information like phone numbers or addresses.”

“When they leave here, they leave with confidence and pride in learning what is going to be their new language.”

The Hurtado Medina classroom is next to the Embajadores de Jesús shelter which houses hundreds of migrants. There are about 20 shelters across the city, which means there are hundreds of children who suddenly find themselves in Tijuana and cut off from mainstream education.

Garcia’s school is an altogether more professional setup, next to the Pro Amore Dei migrant shelter in another part of town. He works for the Yes We Can program, a nonprofit group that has three schools in Mexico, including two in Tijuana.

“We try to build their resilience,” he said of the emotional intelligence classes. “So that they learn to detect maybe the situations that make them a little sad, a little more vulnerable, and help to guide them.”

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Estefania Rebellon has a personal motivation behind Yes We Can.

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For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Estefania Rebellon has a personal motivation behind Yes We Can.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

Yes We Can Executive Director Estefania Rebellon is the founder and driving force behind this landmark program that has grown exponentially in recent years and professionalized the education of migrant children in ways never before seen in Tijuana.

Here, children who arrive at the partner shelter next door are automatically enrolled in school for free and admissions are accepted every day of the year. They are given a uniform and a backpack – even shoes, if they need them. All the teachers are Mexican, are qualified with university degrees and are paid.

Classes are structured and there is a fully formed curriculum that receives official accreditation from Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education and is also recognized in the United States. The efforts are funded by a patchwork of donations and money from nongovernmental organizations.

“For migrant children, a school space is extremely important because if there were no school spaces like ours, they would be in a shelter sitting there every day without any stimulation, without any educational development,” said declared Rebellion.

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

A converted 1993 MCI coach is one of the main classrooms at Yes We Can school.

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For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

A converted 1993 MCI coach is one of the main classrooms at Yes We Can school.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Justin, from Honduras, is one of the students at the school.

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For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Justin, from Honduras, is one of the students at the school.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Children choose drawing materials during the lesson.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR


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Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Children choose drawing materials during the lesson.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

“We thought we were only going to be here for three months and now we’ve been here for three years. So at this point we realized we’re not a crisis response program anymore, we’re a permanent program . “

The pride of this school is a converted 1993 MCI coach dubbed “the magic school bus” which has been gutted and fitted with air conditioning, iPads, a TV and exercise books. In the spirit of the community nature of this school, Rebellon and another co-founder bought the bus on eBay in Los Angeles and then watched YouTube videos to learn how to convert it.

The school also has a practical advantage for the shelter next door. Space is limited there, where families share crowded rooms filled with bunk beds. Each family is only given one mattress to use, whether there are two or five people in the group. So, taking kids to school for a day gives parents the time and space to focus on the next leg of their journey.

“We’re talking about families going through very traumatic situations,” Rebellon said. “So if a parent is going through all these moments of existential crisis and their kids are out there putting on their jeans, like kids do every day, they won’t be able to achieve their goals.”

Rebellon is open that many children who arrive are behind in their education. They brought in teenagers who can’t read or write and who may have suffered terrible trauma fleeing violence or crises everywhere from Nicaragua to Venezuela and Guatemala.

But here they find kindred spirits and learn to channel those emotions. Rebellon knows this experience well. She was a migrant child from Cali, Colombia, who was forced to flee with her family to the United States at the age of 10 due to death threats.

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Justin, left, stretches after class with other students.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR


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Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Justin, left, stretches after class with other students.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

“What’s unique about our space is that when a child comes into our program, it’s not the stranger,” Rebellon said. “They are not ‘the migrant.’ It’s not ‘the ones from Honduras’. It’s not ‘the dark-skinned kid’. It’s a kid who walks into a place where they all look the same.”

Near the back of the bus, 12-year-old Justin jokes with friends as his lesson continues. He’s from Puerto Cortés in Honduras and says the bus is his favorite part of school because he can just be himself in it.

“I can have fun with everyone, I can talk with them. It’s amazing to be here,” he said.

As for how long he will live in the next-door shelter, where he will go next, and what his future will look like, Justin has no idea. It’s a common story for children who find themselves in makeshift classrooms scattered around Tijuana.

Yes We Can now hopes to take the adventure further and is looking for places to open a central school where migrant children can take a bus from any shelter in the city. They have their eye on an old library that has closed.

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Armando Hurtado Medina, coordinator of the English program at the Embajadores de Jesús migrant shelter gives a basic English lesson at the shelter in Tijuana.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR


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Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

For migrant children in Mexico, these schools offer a lesson in hope : NPR

Armando Hurtado Medina, coordinator of the English program at the Embajadores de Jesús migrant shelter gives a basic English lesson at the shelter in Tijuana.

Toya Sarno Jordan for NPR

Back in her small shelter classroom in the canyon, Hurtado Medina has similar goals and hopes to collaborate with Yes We Can and also reach the stage where her children can get accreditation for their work.

Children deserve all the help they can get, Rebellon said.

“I always try to remind everyone that they’re just kids,” she said. “They are not responsible for the situation they are going through. So when you focus on that, everything starts to happen.”


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