Mexico/Usa. “Yes, we can”: the school bus for migrant children.

On the border between Mexico and the United States, a bus converted into a classroom offers education to asylum-seeking children who are unable to go to school. This is an initiative of the ‘Yes, We Can World Foundation’.

On the Mexico-USA border, the non-profit organization Yes, We Can World Foundation – founded in 2019 starting from the profound belief that every child has the right to education, regardless of where they are, their legal status and/or their economic context – brings education to migrant children with a bus converted into a classroom.
The idea of the two founders, Estefanía Rebellón and Kyle Thomas Schmidt, emerged when in 2018 – with the increase in migrant caravans on the border – they decided to travel from Los Angeles towards Tijuana together with some friends to bring supplies, clothes and kits for hygiene to the thousands of people seeking refuge in the United States.
Once they saw what was happening and realized that there was no space dedicated to children, they decided they had to return.

The request for asylum is a long process that takes time: weeks, months, or even years. During that time, children do not have the opportunity to receive an education. 123rf

The request for asylum is a long process that takes time: weeks, months, or even years can pass before it is granted. During that time, children – who have to face the traumas of violence, kidnappings, rapes and threats – do not have the opportunity to receive an education. Many have been travelling for months or years, and find it difficult to attend school because they are often in transit. Security, economic instability, poverty, and lack of means of transport are other factors.
“People don’t realize that it’s a very long process for families.  It’s not as if you arrive at the border, ask for asylum and your life is a rainbow from then on. It takes decades, a lot of work and a lot of pain.” Estefanía said.
She dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress and had moved to Los Angeles to continue her already established career, but she felt the weight of the migration crisis on her shoulders because she too had been a migrant child. Originally from Cali, Colombia, she was forced at the age of ten to flee with her family after her father received death threats from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Estefanía’s parents were both lawyers and her father was also a university professor; once political asylum was granted in Miami, her mother took on various jobs, including as a carer and her father was employed by Walmart, the large American retail chain.
After five years they obtained permanent residency – the so-called green card – and after ten years, US citizenship.

Estefanía Rebellón is the co-founder and Executive Director of Yes, We Can World Foundation.

So, Estefanía and Kyle – after taking a thousand dollars from their savings and looking online for volunteer teachers – returned with tents and materials needed to set up a makeshift school on the border, effectively creating it overnight and managing to gather first a few children and then about fifty into the camps. “I thought: why don’t we transform a bus into a mobile classroom and take it to all the shelters? We searched on Google and YouTube on how to transform a bus into a mobile classroom” said Estefania. After three months of work including sharing on social media, the 54 seats have left room for two long desks and many small chairs. The bus has also been equipped with school supplies and technological tools.
Today three school buses can travel long distances to reach those who need them, helping to provide quality education at no cost, and eliminating the obstacles that children and families face when they cannot access schools, due to distance or transportation costs. ‘Yes, We Can’ also has four schools along the border and provides bilingual education in English and Spanish that includes subjects such as math, English and visual arts.
Furthermore, two ad hoc courses on the migration process and emotional intelligence support children and allow them to process and express what they are experiencing, helping to deal with the shock of the trauma they have suffered.
“Every time I have the opportunity, I share my immigrant story with the children. I want the kids who go through our programs to understand that being a migrant is not something they should be ashamed of,” says Estefanía.The ‘Yes, We Can’ program – which to date boasts 2 million hours of lessons given to more than a thousand children – has been accredited by the Secretariat for Education in Mexico and is aimed at children aged 3 to 15 from various countries with a high rate of migration, such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela and others.

The programs available range from pre-school to middle school. Photo: Yes we can world foundation

The programs available range from pre-school to middle school; the school is open every day from 09:00 to 15:00, there are no summer or winter holidays and, even when the Covid-19 health emergency was added to the migration one, the doors always remained open. Children are immediately enrolled in one of the programs when they arrive at one of the partner shelters and are equipped with a new backpack full of school supplies, two uniforms and a new pair of shoes; all at no cost to the families and thanks to the support of donors.
“Things happen and now we just have to forget the past, be braver, smarter and never give up” says a young student. “I would like to be like Estefanía, I want to help children and build something beautiful like she did.” (Open Photo: 123rf)

Sara Toffano/MM




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