Workshops Light a Spark for Asylum Seekers

“Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture, you can change a person’s life.” Jane Wagner

The lives of our migrant friends in Mexico are a constant flux of running and waiting: running towards a better future, waiting to gain a respite from their journey, running away from danger, and waiting for a chance to reunite with their families abroad. The waiting can take days or months, it can be for just a night before they decide to move to a new city, to wait some more.

We developed a model of 8-week cohorts at our tech hubs in Iraq, for teaching Iraqis and Syrians fleeing violence and war the tech and soft skills they need to get jobs in the modern economy. The 8-week cohort model doesn’t quite fit the reality of those at the Mexico-US border fleeing violence. 8 weeks is a long time to commit when you don’t know where you will be tomorrow. But our friends at the border want the chance to learn new skills and to improve themselves.

When we met our new friends at a shelter for asylum seekers called Revolution House, we saw a lot of people interested in learning new skills. They wanted to take advantage of what our classes provided but knew that committing to more than one day was not a possibility right now. To best serve our friends, we did a bit of brainstorming with the shelter’s administration and came up with the idea of providing single-topic workshops.

Workshops cover a single, condensed subject in a single session, like how to introduce yourself in English, the importance of knowing yourself and your personal brand, and how to write a CV.

Fourteen very eager ladies participated in our pilot. In our traditional 8-week model, we have time to get to know participants, and it’s a straightforward process to show them how to take their life experience and turn it into a CV that could help them land a job. But in workshops, we are meeting many of the participants for the first time, and coaching them through the composition process all in one session.

The kind of coaching needed for workshops is so much more than just teaching them how to prioritize the abilities they want to highlight. Instead, we listen to their stories and show them how every task they have done has value. Women around the world have a habit of downplaying their skills. That doesn’t serve them well when job seeking, especially as a newcomer to a community with no connections or support.

Elena told us “I used to sell clothes at a bazaar.” After asking some questions and listening further, we realized that Elena had been a store manager who oversaw 15 people and was known for being the best at customer service.

Sofía, who attended with her beautiful baby boy, said she was “just a mom.” We soon learned the fuller truth—Sofía studied to be a chef. And at some point in her working history, she was the best vendor of cable & internet packages in her hometown.

We learned that Malena feels more confident in any job that has to do with customer service because she enjoys learning about what people need and making sure they’re satisfied.

And then there is our friend Valentina. She has participated in every one of our pilot workshops and is one of the most resilient, hard-working persons you will ever meet. She separated from her husband while she was still pregnant and worked at making menudo (a kind of rich broth, perfect for cold weather or after big parties) to support herself. She’s worked as a waitress, in a factory, and in a catering business where she learned everything she could until she was in charge of coordinating events, working alongside renowned chefs, hotels, and restaurants.

Valentina told us “I love everything about these workshops because you give us the tools we need to improve ourselves. You bring it to us, and help us see there are other things, things we didn’t know we can do, to have a better future.”

We know that a single course is rarely enough to change someone’s future, even less a single lesson given in just a day. But we have learned, again and again, that a single action can help bring back the light to people—to spark hope. For our team in Mexico, our biggest accomplishment as a Preemptive Love community is seeing the smiles and knowing that together we helped to put them there.