When Team Brownsville volunteers saw the need for interactive activities for children seeking asylum waiting at the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, they decided to take action and created “Sidewalk School” where volunteers teach them different subjects on Sundays.
Sidewalk School started last Sunday with leaders and founders of the initiative Felicia Rangel-Samorano and Melba Salazar-Lucio. Although they only have permission by Mexican authorities to teach one day, they hope the number of classes per week will increase so the children and their families can get an education and forget about everything they’ve been through, at least for a moment.
“The Migrant Protection Protocol came into effect, so, now asylum seekers are stuck in Mexico for long periods of time. So whenever we were crossing we would see the kids just sitting there not doing anything,” Rangel-Samorano said. “We would give them toys and crayons with Team Brownsville but they were not learning anything, and every once in a while someone would ask, ‘is there a school where my child can go to?’ Or even the children would ask, ‘is there a school that we can go to while we are waiting here?’ So since they are there for a long period of time, we said ‘let’s start this school, we know they will be there’.”
At the school, children and their families are learning math, English, geography and literature. While this initiative was focused for the children only, volunteers said parents were also very involved and happy to be learning in class.
“We didn’t think there would be a lot of children. We thought there would be around 10, but there were at least 30, and then the parents also wanted to participate in the class, so, they wanted some paper also,” Salazar-Lucio said. “They were happy. Just moments like that and trying to bring them in to pay attention and to be absorbed in something, even if it’s just an hour, so they can forget about all the trauma they’ve been through. We try to make it fun and the parents like it, too.”
They said almost all the funding for Team Brownsville is not from the Rio Grande Valley. Salazar-Lucio said this summer they had people from all over the United States volunteering and donating money to the nonprofit.
“If we had more local support that would be great,” she said. “That’s how we can function, with generosity from the people. This is not religious or political; this is being a human being and having a heart.”
Team Brownsville has been crossing to Matamoros every day for more than one year to provide basic necessities such as food, diapers, medicine and water to asylum seekers waiting at the bridge. Volunteers for the school project hope to also receive local help to continue funding the Sidewalk School.
“We have a lot of things that we need because we really have nothing. We put it on Facebook and our friends and people have been calling and tell me that they have Crayolas and paper and we go to their house to pick it up. We also have a GoFundMe,” Salazar-Lucio said.
To donate or volunteer for the project, look for the “Sidewalk School on the Bridge” donation Facebook page by Rangel-Samorano or email Salazar-Lucio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“When I see the little children I think that I have a grandson that is his age, I have a granddaughter and that is somebody’s child. It doesn’t matter where they came from, it doesn’t matter how they look,” Salazar-Lucio said. “We are giving them the opportunity to learn, to be creative and to get away from the cruel reality of their lives right now.”