After the United States enacted its January 2019 Remain in Mexico program, migrants seeking US asylum were forced to seek makeshift shelter just over the border in Mexico to await their court dates (6+ months). In groups they created a “Tent City” in the streets of Matamoros and in other border towns, bathing in the adjacent Rio Grande.
Without income eligibility in Mexico, these displaced families were suddenly reliant upon the support of private aid organizations for food, basic hygiene, and mental/physical health care. Moreover the state of Tamaulipas, which includes Matamoros, is rife with sexual assult, kidnapping, and murder. A State Department advisory warns US citizens not to travel in this area.
In a camp overrun with children, morale was quite low.
Wanting to support the children in the camp, Felicia Rangel-Samponaro founded The Sidewalk School in Matamoros in 2019 and was joined by Victor Cavazos later that year. Believing that all children thrive with education, they hire asylum seekers to teach the children in afternoon sessions on the sidewalk inside Tent City, using educational materials donated from organizations in the United States. Cavazos walks several miles on school days to purchase fresh fruit and sandwiches for the children, and they piece together lessons based on what the children have interest in learning.
The children look up to Rangel-Samponaro, Cavazos, and their teachers for the familiar routine of learning, for the warmth and support of adults who care, and for unprocessed food, a luxury difficult to find in the camp. Most importantly the Sidewalk School brings a sense of normalcy to children whose lives have been turned upside down.
This project was photographed with every effort to avoid showing faces of the refugee children, in an attempt to protect them and their families from the threat of cartel retaliation.
Click the arrows to advance gallery below.