Sep 14

Guest blog: Standing up for immigrant kids

By Sil Ganzó, executive director of ourBRIDGE for KIDS

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, ourBRIDGE for KIDS is an afterschool program focused on helping newly-arrived and first-generation American children achieve academic success and integration into the community through innovative instructional methods and a celebration of cultural diversity. Our students represent more than 20 cultures from Southeast Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America.

In my role as executive director, I often have the opportunity to present our work to representatives of various corporations and foundations and meet potential advocates, volunteers, and donors who will further our mission of creating a community that embraces refugees and immigrants. The questions, feedback, and constant surge of ideas improves our program and makes my job truly exciting, and I love it. I like to think of myself as a fearless, outspoken advocate, but recently this notion was put up to the test.

I was giving one such presentation a few weeks ago, speaking about the children we serve, when an audience member took issue with the fact that in addition to serving refugees, we also serve “possible illegal aliens.”

“We don’t ask for the legal status of the children we enroll,” I explained, and moved on.

On the next slide of my presentation there are two pictures, one of a refugee boy from Syria and another of a girl from Guatemala. I typically tell both stories and share how well they are doing now, improving their English language skills, learning about science and math, but in a reactive effort to win back the woman’s approval, I omitted the girl’s story.

I immediately regretted it.

The current political climate is changing the way many people approach ourBRIDGE, but that’s okay. While some may react like the audience member at the presentation did, many, many more have come forward to stand up and show their support for children like the girl from Guatemala. In fact, ourBRIDGE alone has seen a 900 percent increase in volunteer sign-ups since November 2016.

I wish that I had told the group that what really matters is that our student is safe with her family and getting her education; that she is learning English and will excel at anything she puts her mind into, because she already does. Her journey, her challenges, and her success should be shared. Her voice, just like that of millions of kids like her, should be heard, and we should stay 100 percent true to our conviction that these children and their education matter, regardless of whom we have in front of us. While the newly-arrived children can prove it themselves, we need to be the ones standing up for them, everywhere, every time — no matter who our audience is.

Is your afterschool program looking for resources to help support immigrant kids and families? Check out our webinar and the attached list of resources, including factsheets and guides to the rights of children, students, and families. For more on this subject and ways afterschool providers can take action, read Guest blog: Fear and deportation.