Estefanía Rebellón knows the trauma that comes from being forced to flee her home for safety reasons. She understands the fear and uncertainty felt by more than 70 million migrants and forcibly displaced children around the world.
She was also a child migrant.
“My family’s case is the case of many refugees and migrants at the border. Our family never had the choice to leave our home. We were forced out,” said Rebellón, 32.
She was 10 years old when her family fled Cali, Colombia, because of death threats made against her father, who was forced into hiding. They settled in Miami, and with the support of the school’s teachers, Rebellón thrived. Now, thanks to his non-profit organization, Yes We Can Global Foundationshe provides education for children living in uncertainty in shelters on the border between the United States and Mexico.
Rebellón left Miami for Los Angeles at the age of 21 to pursue an acting career. In 2018, after volunteering in migrant camps in Tijuana, she was so moved that she put her career on hold.
“No school had been created to help these children. They walked around the camps barefoot,” she said. “I couldn’t forget what I had just seen. And I was like, “I literally have to go back.” »
Rebellón and his partner, Kyle Schmidt, used about $1,000 of their savings to buy tents and supplies and set up a makeshift school on the border. They recruited volunteer teachers to provide learning opportunities in the camps.
“We started a school overnight and … we only told a few kids about it,” Rebellón said. “It spread throughout the camp and we had about 50 kids around us.”
In the months that followed, when families living in the camps were moved to shelters, Rebellón and Schmidt wanted to continue offering educational services.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we turn a bus into a mobile classroom, and we could take it to all the different shelters?'” Rebellion says. “We literally Googled and YouTubed how to convert a bus into a mobile classroom.”
The following year, Rebellón and Schmidt bought and gutted a bus, partnered with shelters and drove the converted bus across the border. Their goal: to offer bilingual educational programs to keep children in school.
“All the families we work with and all the children we work with on a daily basis are legally seeking asylum,” Rebellón said. “They follow all the processes that are required of them.”
Rebellón’s organization hires professional teachers and tailors its curriculum to the specific needs of each student. The program was accredited by Mexico’s Ministry of Education and is aimed at children ages 3 to 15 – a crucial time for education, Rebellón says.
Despite the challenges she faced as a migrant child, she says she was lucky to have teachers who advocated for her and guided her along the way.
Many migrant children do not benefit from this support and often fall through the cracks and miss valuable school time. Many have been on the road for months, even years, and have difficulty attending school because they are often in transit, without a permanent home. Safety, economic instability, poverty, lack of transportation, and perceived legal status are also factors.
“People don’t realize it’s such a long process for families,” Rebellón said. “It’s not like you get to the border and ask for asylum and your life is all rainbows. “It takes decades, a lot of work and a lot of pain.”
Rebellón’s family went through a decades-long legal process to obtain political asylum and later U.S. citizenship. His parents, both trained lawyers, were forced to abandon their careers in Colombia and take new jobs in the United States to support their family of five. Her mother worked multiple jobs as a caregiver, and her father worked nights at Walmart. He has worked there full time for almost 20 years.
“Every chance I get, I share my immigration story with (the children),” Rebellón said. “I always want the children who participate in our programs to realize that being a migrant is not something they need to be ashamed of. »
Today, the Yes We Can Foundation educates 250 to 300 children per day through its four schools along the border and three mobile school buses. Since 2019, Rebellón says the group has served more than 3,100 migrant children from 10 countries.
Their program runs Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The school operates all year round, with no summer holidays. They also provide free uniforms, backpacks and school supplies. Courses focus on common core instruction in the subjects of language arts, math, and science, as well as addressing practical and immediate needs such as how to translate basic information, including number numbers. telephone number and addresses.
“I want our efforts to be permanent,” Rebellón said. “And that when all is said and done, we will be proud to look back and say we were there when people needed us most.”
Do you want to get involved? Check the Yes We Can Global Foundation website and see how to help.
To donate to the Yes We Can World Foundation via GoFundMe, Click here