HIDALGO, Texas (Border report) – Despite the lack of electricity, water supply and other basic amenities, several migrants managed to complete a business college course in the United States while living in tent camps on the northern border of Mexico .
Refugee Awareness Collective (ROC) recruited the migrants, and the association’s leaders are now in Reynosa, Mexico, trying to find more adult migrants to take another course that is offered to them free of charge while they live in an expanding encampment in this area. dangerous and crime-ridden border town.
Border Report spoke by phone with ROC Executive Director Emily Worline, who was at the refugee tent camp in Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas on Monday. She had just learned that her organization had been authorized to begin recruiting for a new course, Humanityism in Theory and Practice, to be offered by a professor at Northern Michigan University. And she said she was thrilled to find 30 refugee students to fill the class.
“We’re going to do our best to recruit these people for this class,” Worline said. “Mainly from those who live in Reynosa. “
Seven ROC-affiliated refugee migrant students completed their first class offered online by a professor at Central Michigan University’s Lansing campus on Friday.
The class started with 15 refugee students, all teachers with Non-profit sidewalk school for asylum-seeking children, teaching students in the filthy camp in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico, across the river from Brownsville, Texas. All of the teachers were also refugees waiting to seek asylum in the United States, but had been sent back to wait in Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program.
But after President Joe Biden took office, nearly 1,000 people from the camp and surrounding areas were allowed legal entry into the United States. This included all of the teachers at Sidewalk School except two. Once they got through, eight of them didn’t complete the course, Sidewalk School co-principal Felicia Rangel-Samponaro told Border Report.
Nonetheless, she said it was a wonderful partnership that gave her teachers the experience of taking an American college course, and more importantly, she said, it gave them more purpose. while they waited in Matamoros, some up to two years.
“I asked my staff how they felt about taking a college course, and everyone said they wanted to go back to school,” Rangel-Samponaro said. “So we fixed a few issues and it happened.”
The problems and the logistics took months to iron out. This included a full Spanish translation of the course and study material, and the participation of a weekly interpreter during the course. But in January, the International Business Relations course was launched and everything was going well. This was until the camp was dissolved.
“When the camp closed and 17 staff walked through, it was a huge change,” she said. “But they all took the halfway point. They all passed. She said everyone is doing very well.
The course is not accredited, but Rangel-Samponaro believes the real-world experience of taking a higher education course in the United States and taking the initiative to study even while living in a camp. refugees will suit their asylum claim.
Rangel-Samponaro calls their ability to follow such a course and pass it a victory, especially given their situation.
The Sidewalk School provided the tablets and study materials, and the university gave them free tuition. Their classmates were American students, and although they or they paid for the course, they also benefited from the weekly Zoom chats in which they learned what life was like in a refugee camp on the border, Worline said.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many learn, and she said it opens up an opportunity for academic institutions to understand that refugees in other countries can be part of this academic equation as well.
“Really, at the end of the day, all people need is simple internet access,” she said. “And we can expand their access to universities. “
It is a model that she has been perfecting since ROC, a year ago, began offering its first classes to refugees in Dzaleka, Malawi, in south-eastern Africa.
Currently there are 12 migrant students in Dzaleka taking a course. In June, a new class will explore the European Union, Worline said.
ROC and the Sidewalk School are not affiliated, but Rangel-Samponaro has said she will help Worline book potential recruits for the next humanitarian course. And Worline said she would report what she learned over the past two weeks while visiting the border in Reynosa to her organization’s 25-member executive board in the hopes that they will open more courses and more. places for migrant students in the future.
“Classes are online and can take place anywhere. They can attend conferences and be part of the university, ”Worline said. “So I hope we have more registrants.”