SOUTHLAKE, Texas – While many people were preparing for holiday celebrations, Elisa O’Callaghan was heading to Matamoros, Mexico, to teach children who are seeking asylum in the United States.
She hopes she can continue to teach once a month at the Sidewalk School, or Escuelita en la Banqueta.
O’Callaghan said she is working with the nonprofit Team Brownsville, which provides food for the migrants waiting at the bridge and also operates the Sidewalk School.
The school, where volunteer teachers hold classes on an outdoor plaza, was formed in July 2019 to give children something to do. Teachers instruct children and adults in subjects including English, geography and math.
O’Callaghan said the Mexican government allows the school to open one day a week and added that she doesn’t know how many children she will teach.
But she said she wants the children to express their feelings through art and she wants to bring their work back to North Texas to display the drawings and paintings so that people understand their plight and so that she can help raise money to provide meals.
The children and adults who are seeking asylum must wait in Mexico until they have a court date to appear before a U.S. immigration judge under a Trump Administration program called the Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP.
Melba Salazar-Lucio, who founded the Sidewalk School, said she started out with 20 children. Now at least 150 show up ready to learn.
Classes are taught outdoors. There are no desks, tables or chairs, she said.
Volunteers teach 15-minute “mini lessons” in math, geography, science and other subjects. Some lessons are taught in Spanish but some are also taught in English or they are bilingual.
“It’s just amazing to see how they learn; they are living in squalid conditions,” Salazar-Lucio said.
“Moms dress kids in the best of whatever they have.”
Salazar-Lucio said classes are taught on Sunday mornings. She and other volunteers meet at the Brownsville bus station and walk 2 miles into Mexico pulling wagons full of books and other supplies.
The children now recognize Salazar-Lucio and the volunteers when they arrive.
O’Callaghan is gathering art supplies for her classes. She wants to focus on having children draw in a memory book, paint using water colors and create their favorite animal.
“I want to bring back their expressions, their emotions to exhibit them to raise awareness,” she said.
The children and their families are from Guatemala, Cuba, El Salvador and Venezuela, but Salazar-Lucio said she also sees people from Cameroon and even some from China.
The people who volunteer to work with the children come from all over the United States. They are professors, attorneys, teachers and students.
Salazar-Lucio said she is having the children work on projects including writing books and letters.
Teaching art is the most recent project that O’Callaghan is involved with to help the children. In August, O’Callaghan and other women started making dolls for the children called CALM or Creating a Loving Memory dolls.
O’Callaghan said she wants to bring a human touch to the children who are waiting in Mexico, unsure of their fate.
“Let them narrate their feelings. Let them become human again,” O’Callaghan said.