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Far from Hollywood, Estefana Rebelln helps migrant children

Far from Hollywood, Estefana Rebelln helps migrant children


When she starred as one of two sisters crossing the border through the Sonoran Desert in the movie On another side, actress Estefana Rebelln had her first experience of what thousands of people in search of the American dream face.

But cinema is one thing, and reality quite another.

When she was 10 and living in Cali, Colombia, her parents came to her school one day to pick her up earlier than usual. They told him that they were going to leave the country because they were threatened with death by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the left-wing guerrilla group that waged a decades-long civil war against the government that left hundreds of thousands dead for more than half a century.

The only thing I could take was a toy, recalls Rebelln. I arrived in Miami with what I was wearing.

Seeking to fulfill her dream of being an actress, Rebelln left Florida and moved to Los Angeles, where she began a promising career in film and television. By 2017, she had written, directed and acted in several films and series, such as Grachi (2011), Husband for Rent (2013) and Jane the Virgin.

But in 2018, when the migratory flow reached a crisis point and dozens of migrant caravans from Central America arrived at the US-Mexico border, her glamorous life in Hollywood was turned upside down. Something told her she had to go to Tijuana and see what was happening up close.

I knew I had to do something right away, recalls actress Estefana Rebelln

Estefana Rebelln.

(Estefana Rebelln)

And she didn’t think twice. In Los Angeles, with her partner Kyle Thomas Schmidt, actor, director and stuntman, she formed the organization Yes we canand within three months they had bought a school bus and turned it into a school that had been placed on the land of the Pro Amore Dei hostel in Tijuana.

The question is unavoidable: why a school?

When I arrived from Colombia, everything changed overnight and the only place I felt safe was at school, she tells me with a touch of nostalgia for those difficult days of her childhood. That is why a school in Tijuana was a way to make life a little easier for these children who had to go through so many difficulties.

When I visited the Yes We Can school in Tijuana, I met teacher Clarisa Carrasco who, amid the noise of the classroom, was playing soft music, like for meditation, and asking the children to inhale and exhale, while getting up slowly. and lowered his arms.

The effect was immediate. The tumult gradually turned into a silence that was broken only by the delicate music. Now let go of all your thoughts, just focus on your breathing.

Amid all the stress kids are going through, school offers them some stability, Carrasco, who has extensive experience working with migrant children from Latin America, told me.

Here, in this school, everyone, children and adults, has a story to tell.

Like the 5-year-old girl from Guatemala who hugs a huge teddy bear while describing, in great detail, her experience of being in the immigration detention center, known as the cooler; the cold she feels when she sleeps with a foil blanket, and the small pain she feels in her chest when the immigration authorities separate her from her mother.

Or that of Isabel, a young Guatemalan girl with beautiful light brown eyes who left her town when gunmen attacked her neighbors’ homes.

The bus is part of the Yes We Can Mobile Schools project of the Yes We Can World Foundation, a non-profit organization created to support migrant children stranded at Mexico’s northern border while waiting for US authorities to accept or deny their applications for ‘asylum.

The dynamic within the school is similar to that of other education systems. There are two instructors who teach different subjects bilingually. The children start the activities at 9am and at 11am they have a break for breakfast. The day ends at 1 p.m.

In 2021, the Yes We Can Mobile Schools program turned 2 years old. We were very surprised to see that, despite the global lockdown due to the pandemic, thousands and thousands of families continued to migrate, making schools more and more necessary, explains Rebelln.

Between 2020 and 2021, Yes We Can opened two new schools with the same model in the states of Baja California and Chihuahua. The impact was so great that Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education granted official recognition to its study plans, becoming the first bilingual academic program for migrant children.

Impressive Achievements

In July, Yes We Can will celebrate its 4th anniversary and begin construction of a new bus in Los Angeles that will serve as a school in one of the border towns. We always need volunteers to help us, the job is never done, laughs Rebelln.

What this young actress has accomplished by organizing Yes We Can in four years is impressive. Here are some data:

It has provided education and enrolled more than 2,800 immigrant and refugee children in its mobile school program.

She has provided more than 2 million hours of teaching to children in crisis.

It has built four school spaces on the US-Mexico border, two in Tijuana, one in Mexicali and one in Ciudad Jurez. The organization currently manages three school spaces, two in Tijuana and one in Ciudad Jurez.

It has developed its own curriculum for working with refugee and immigrant children and has developed specialized courses for children in crisis and migrants.

The schools serve more than 300 students between the ages of 3 and 15 on a daily basis and offer education for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary grades 1-5 and 6-8.

The schools work with children of 10 different nationalities, including Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, Brazil and children born in the United States whose parents were expelled.

Yes We Can distributed more than 2,800 new backpacks with school kits and provided more than 2,800 uniforms to children enrolled in its programs.

Students play after class.  The Yes We Can Foundation

Students play after class. The Yes We Can Foundation cleared the property near the bus to make it a playground.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

All this work has given Rebelln great satisfaction. In 2023, she was named Woman of the Year by the Womens March LA Foundation. In 2021, she was nominated for the Alfonso Garca Robles Humanitarian Prize by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) for the defense, promotion, protection and guarantee of the human rights of immigrants in situations of vulnerability.

A pleasant surprise

In June 2022, Rebelln received a direct message from Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of the Department of Homeland Security, and his heart skipped a beat. It’s not everyday you get calls like this.

The message was simple: the United States government wanted to inform her that she had been named an Outstanding American for her work leading the Yes We Can organization.

How does it feel to be recognized like that? Rebelln remains very serious as she tells me, it is a recognition for my family, for the migrants and for all of us who have come to this country and contributed to make it bigger and more prosperous.

And while in recent years she has focused on how raising Title 42 affects global immigration, she has not put aside her dream of being an actress.

But I’m not going to lose myself in the glamor and elegance of Hollywood, she tells me with conviction. I have a conscience and I am consistent with what I believe, so I will continue to fight for every one of my dreams, no matter how hard they may seem.




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