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Learning Together: My Experience Teaching Asylum Seekers

The first time I went to Pro Amore Dei Shelter in Tijuana, I was instantly surprised. The computer lab was on the second floor, the narrow stairs were a bit hard to find since they were in the back part of the shelter. Little did I know, they would take me to a beautiful room with 10 computers, all with their respective cameras and headphones, and all very well taken care of.

Having seen the space where my students would begin their Digital Literacy Class, was a good way to understand them and plan the class so that they could interact with one another. This is a 5-week course that covers all computer basics, starting with how to use the mouse and how to type on the keyboard. These things may seem easy to someone who has always been in contact with computers. Nevertheless, for someone who never had the chance to go to school and even less owned a computer, it can be extremely hard.

All the students were adults, the youngest one was 16 years old. The younger students were clearly familiar with how to download apps, send an email, and, of course, watch videos on youtube. The older students, in many cases the parents of the first ones, struggled to start typing on the keyboard. This created a beautiful dynamic, however, one where the younger students were constantly motivating their parents and everyone helped each other out.

In the beginning, there were 10 people in the class. However, many things happened during the 5 weeks, and not everyone made it to graduation. I have now seen that it is very common when the men drop the class because they got a job offer. Other students may finally receive the call they’ve been waiting for months or even years: “Your parole application has been approved, you are now able to go to the US”. These occasions are bittersweet, when a student comes in with this news, our online classroom becomes a space for joy, tears, and excitement. Some wish them good luck, others tell them to pray for the ones that stay.

As the course advanced, everyone learned more about applications, how to use google drive, how to create a resume, and how to apply for jobs online. By the last week of class, they were all experts in using zoom. Everyone was able to share their screens, do a five-minute presentation with google slides, and use all the zoom reactions.

At the end of the course, 5 amazing women were able to graduate. They were so responsible and constant. The only time they missed a class was when they finally got the covid vaccine and needed a well-deserved rest. I got to know their personal stories as well, one of them told me she hadn’t seen her mother in 14 years and was looking forward to the reunion. This all made this teaching experience very special for me, I was so inspired by their resilience and their ability to stay hopeful in every situation. I am very proud of them for all they have overcome and learned, and now, as their classmates said, I will wish them good luck in the rest of their journey ahead while waiting for the next cohort of students to start theirs.

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