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Undocumented students who left the U.S. are learning to code in Mexico

When Miriam was 14, she learned she was not an American citizen as she believed her whole life.

Despite being raised in the United States since she was an infant, Miriam was undocumented and her future in the country was now in question. She would not be able to attend college and she was fearful of deportation. 

So Miriam decided to voluntarily return to Mexico and began the hard task of trying to reestablish her life. 

Many undocumented individuals who leave the United States, voluntarily or through deportation, face huge financial challenges in Mexico. 

Lack of credit history, stable employment and collateral can make it hard to obtain even a debit card, and qualifying for loans is practically impossible.

Thankfully, Miriam found Hola<code/>, a Kiva Field Partner and Mexico City-based social enterprise that offers one solution for students eager to build their careers but without the financial resources needed. The organization promotes access to high demand employment for financially excluded youth by offering them an immersive, career-led software engineering bootcamp. 

The bootcamp is a 5-month program that teaches students all the skills necessary to become full-stack software engineers. Hola<code/> tuition is deferred, meaning that students don’t pay for their educations until after gaining employment. 

“It’s a program that helps students integrate into Mexico through education and technology,” Hola<code/> founder Marcela Torres says. She explains that students’ bilingual skills gives them an advantage because it enables access to a broad range of high quality technical literature, especially documents written in English. 

“Being bilingual also helps students gain high-demand employment when they're graduated,” Torres continues. “Our students go from earning about $300 a month in Mexico working in call centers to earning $2,300 to $3,000 per month at companies like Globant, Oracle, and Clip.”

Because students don't pay tuition upfront, the program needed to acquire financing from somewhere to act as a stopgap. This is where Kiva comes in: Kiva lenders crowdfund loans for the students of Hola<code/>.

“Without being able to offer deferred tuition and an accessible financing option, we wouldn't be able to run this program” Torres says, “There's no way we could offer deferred tuition without Kiva. It is what makes the program accessible.”

Miriam is one of the students who completed the Hola<code/> program with support from Kiva lenders. Her $6,000 loan was fully funded in less than 30 minutes. 

“It was very exciting and kind of scary,” Miriam says of entering the Hola<code/> program. “I never thought I'd learn how to code. Before this I was studying politics. But during Hola<code/> I learned how to do something different and changed my mindset.”

Now, she works as a software developer at Segundamano. She started 2 weeks after finishing the Hola<code/>  program.

“I feel really grateful for Kiva and Hola<code/>,” Miriam says. “I was frustrated because I couldn't go to school here because I didn't have financial support, and I thought I wasn't going to be able to go to college. But I wanted to learn new things and continue my education. And being able to join Hola<code/> opened my mind to something I never thought I would be able to learn.” 

In addition to new opportunities, Kiva and Hola<code/> are giving students a platform on which to tell their stories. Most students had been living in the United States for the majority of their lives before being deported to Mexico for minor legal infractions, like driving without a license. 

“Kiva has given them the opportunity to change how people envision migrants,” Torres says. “They can say, ‘This is who I am and these are my dreams and this is the person I can become.’ They're coming back to Mexico, a country they don't know and where they don't speak the language very well. They don't have social capital. Their friends and family are in the United States.” 

Another student, Alex, was working at a call center in Mexico City before signing up for Hola<code/>.

“It sounded too good to be true,” Alex says. “That they were going to pay us and then give us jobs.”

Alex lived in the United States from the time he was very young until just before high school. He was a football player and was getting some interest from prestigious universities like the University of Southern California. Then he had to come back to Mexico. 

“I was told that I couldn't go to college, and that if I wanted to I would have to start at first grade,” Alex says, explaining that the Mexican public school system didn’t honor his studies in the States. “As a 14-year-old, it was shocking and horrible. I stopped caring about school until I was 17, when I went back and completed elementary, middle and high school all within a single year.”

But getting into college, he says, proved challenging. Because of the lack of affordable, quality public higher education, unless you come from means and are able to attend a private college, gaining admission to one of Mexico’s top universities is incredibly difficult.

“I didn't care what I studied,” Alex says. “I just wanted knowledge. When I heard about Hola<code/>, I didn't even know what a software engineer was or did. But when I got into the program what I found were people who understood me. They understood what it's like to live in the States and be young in the States. Even though I was born in Mexico, I lived in the States. When I met my classmates, it was like they got it. Like, ‘You used to go to Wendy's? I used to go to Wendy's too.’ It might seem small, but it felt like I was never going to meet anyone like me here.” 

Today, Alex is working for Clip, one of Mexico’s largest finch companies. His loan, also $6,000, was funded by Kiva’s community of lenders in 45-minutes.

“There were a lot of people from Oregon who funded me,” Alex says of the experience of being funded on Kiva. “And that's where I grew up. It gave me goosebumps. Having people from the state loan to me, it gave me chills. It was like my neighbors.”

He doesn’t hesitate to think hard about his future. Alex is cofounding a company with one of his Hola<code/> classmates to manufacture high-end computers for gamers.

“If I could tell you all the plans I have now,” Alex says. “If you look back one year ago when I didn't have anything, when I didn’t even have the opportunity to dream about what I was going to do with my life.”

That's changed, he says. And then he pauses for a moment before speaking again. 

“Can you imagine what will happen in 3 years?” 


About the author

Michael Light

Michael is a writer and editor originally from Dayton, Ohio. He currently serves as Kiva's Partnerships and Marketing Intern, as well as Features Editor at the Sprudge Media Network. He's worked previously for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Climbing Magazine, Vice, Lucky Peach and McSweeney’s.