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Binational Collaboration Gets Remote Learning Into The Hands Of Tijuana’s Asylum-Seekers

Asylum-seeking children learn together on a remote connection with their teac...

Credit: Espacio Migrante

Above: Asylum-seeking children learn together on a remote connection with their teacher in Espacio Migrante in Tijuana in this undated photo.

Even before the pandemic, asylum-seekers struggled to find educational opportunities for their children during the months and years they would have to wait in Tijuana.

Many of them had been sent back to Mexico earlier this year as part of the Remain-in-Mexico program.

That situation became even more dire during the pandemic, as Mexico scaled back its outreach programs to asylum-seekers, and international education groups pulled out of the country.

Starting in April, a binational collaboration of local nonprofits stepped up to offer remote learning for these children, well before many schools in San Diego were able to make the switch.

“We saw an opportunity with our technology programs,” said Nicholas Sandoval, the founder and CEO of Create Purpose, which runs educational programs in orphanages in Tijuana. “Once we started offering these classes virtually, it was just a light bulb went off for the organization. We realized we didn’t lose any of the learning process. The children were more attentive.”

But Sandoval’s organization had previously only worked in orphanages. It took UC San Diego’s Tom Wong to help get their infrastructure into the hands of asylum-seeking children.

RELATED: Learning Space For Child Migrants Expands In Tijuana

“I asked, whether there would be any interest in expanding [their programs] to include asylum-seeking children in migrant shelters in Tijuana,” Wong told KPBS.

He runs the university’s U.S. Immigration Policy Center, and has been researching asylum-seekers at the border. While Wong had the resources to expand Create Purposes programming, and an interest in getting that programming to asylum-seekers, they still needed a space.

They found a willing partner in Espacio Migrante, a binational organization that operates a shelter in Tijuana. Within just a few weeks, they had pulled together all three organizations to make the project a reality.

“Espacio Migrante is on the ground, working with families, and especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, needed to find families, and especially kids, not just ways to be busy, but happy,” Wong told KPBS. “As happy as one can imagine in the circumstances that they’re in during the day.”

So far, the students, who are all girls, are learning computer basics and coding in a room that Espacio Migrante has converted to virtual learning.

“We don’t know if it’s going to be months or years that these asylum-seeking families are going to be in Mexico,” Wong said, explaining the need for the collaboration. “So how could we, as a nonprofit on the US side, an educational institution and a migrant shelter in Tijuana, how could we get together to not only fill time, but to give these children some skills that are transferable when their situation does normalize.”

Wong hopes to expand the program to other shelters in the coming months, as asylum-seeking families continue to wait in Tijuana for their day in court.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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