Shelters help slake migrants' thirst to learn - Albuquerque Journal

Shelters help slake migrants’ thirst to learn

First there was Johanna Melendez from Honduras; then the two sisters, Delmys Supaya Molina and her sister, Dulce, also from Honduras; and then in July three Mexican women, Lidiana from the state of Jalisco, Diana Fernanda from Michoacán and Janet from Guerrero. As each of them passes their credible fear tests and heads north into the United States to stay with family members or sponsors while awaiting their final judicial hearings, they are replaced by someone else who shares their deep commitment to preparing young migrant children for new lives in America, most importantly to teach them some English.

The Respettrans shelter near the international bridge in Juárez is a tall, battered-looking building that usually houses 180 to 240 migrants. It’s a shelter that largely governs itself. The director, Grecia Herrera, is a nurse and has a day job in a hospital, so the migrants select their own leadership and manage everything – cooking, cleaning as well as these intense and enthusiastic educational programs.

Preparing for new lives in America means learning English. Even though these women have only had a smattering of English studies in their home countries, they are committed to providing the basics.

During a recent visit, a girl named Fernanda proudly showed me her workbook. There were some 40 pages of lessons and homework she had completed. So this is clearly a serious effort.

But homework and English studies aren’t everything. On my last visit I brought a large map of the United States so these families could get a sense of where they were headed, be it Chicago, Boston or San Francisco. Keep in mind that a country like Honduras has 47,278 square miles. Compare this to the United States, with 3,797,000 square miles. That means the United States is about 90 times larger and very confusing to a newcomer.

This is not just a migrant issue. Jane Fuller, director of the El Paso-based nonprofit Siguiendo los Pasos de Jesús (SPJ – Following the Footsteps of Jesus), is an advocate for hundreds of families on the west edge of Juárez. Although SPJ is best known for the 500 some homes it has built over the last 20 years, she is also focused on the children there and recently sent out an appeal for back-to-school materials as well as for funds for student fees.

Education is purportedly free in Mexico, but students have to pay $25 for kindergarten per year and up to $88 per semester for high school, a lot of money in an impoverished colonia.

In Palomas, La Casa de Amor para Niños leaders Jim and Pat Noble, and Eunice Herrera from New Mexico, have gathered scholarship funds for over 100 Palomas students for books, fees and uniforms.

Morgan Smith has been writing about border issues for the last decade and can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net

 

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