It started out simply: a pop-up school on a sidewalk in the Matamoros Tent City near the U.S.-Mexico border. The Central American children and their families living in the camp are asylum seekers. Their lives were disrupted in many ways when their families fled violence in their homelands. At the sidewalk school, they study reading, writing, math, and art. The classes offer children the chance to catch up on their education.
The sidewalk school originally met in person. But it had to switch to virtual learning because of the pandemic. Instead of being hampered by the change, it has blossomed. There are about 20 teachers now. All seek asylum in the United States too. Like in many American school systems in the last year, classes are held via Zoom. Now teachers can reach children not only in the camp near the U.S. border but also at shelters and apartments elsewhere in Mexico.
The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers outfitted teachers and students with more than 200 Amazon tablets. Felicia Rangel-Samponaro of Brownsville, Texas, founded that organization. She crosses the border to give food and books to asylum seekers. Rangel-Samponaro says that she used her own money and raised funds to buy the tablets.
Every year, people come to the United States seeking protection. If they are persecuted because of their race, religion, politics, or nationality, or for being part of a targeted social group, they can apply for asylum—an official promise of access to pursue sanctuary and work inside another nation’s borders.
U.S. asylum recipients can live and work in the United States. Eventually, they could become citizens. But even under the best of circumstances, it takes a long time for the government and courts to get through all the applications. There’s a huge backlog, with approvals taking months or even years. The process is extra long now. Pandemic responses have delayed asylum case hearings and interviews. Meanwhile, the seekers just have to wait.
Gabriela Fajardo is an elementary school teacher. She fled her village in crime-ridden Honduras with her son after receiving threats because her brother is a police officer. She has spent a year and four months in Mexico, waiting as her case slowly proceeds through the U.S. courts.
Being able to teach—her life’s passion—has given Fajardo a sense of purpose. “I've noticed children who are older and know nothing,” she says. “I was taught in college that the reason to get an education is to be able to educate others.”
God executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. — Deuteronomy 10:18