Looking Back: Immigrant Students and Educators Reflect on the Pandemic’s Impact on Their Education and Their Lives

Liliana Avendaño, founding member and facilitator with the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity in East Boston, recently took part in a virtual speaking series,  “Suitcase Stories: Reflections from the School Year”, to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month and the end of the 2020-2021 school year. 

The event, sponsored by City of Boston Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement (MOIA) and the International Institute of New England (IINE) gave immigrant students and educators the opportunity to share their experiences with remote learning and reflect on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on their educational journey.

Before the pandemic Avendaño’s work for Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity in East Boston educated immigrant entrepreneurs and empowered them to create worker cooperatives in the Eastie community. 

“During the pandemic everything changed,” said Avendaño. “Before the pandemic we were doing trainings in-person. We had contact with people and we could talk with them but during the pandemic we needed to start to do everything online.”

At the time Avendaño was also taking early childhood education classes and needed to finish her own classes online while balancing her online training work for the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity. 

“This was painful for everybody,” she said. “I was doing outreach with the community and  receiving hundreds of calls every day with different problems.”

Blanching her commitment to the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity and her own education was not easy but in the end furthering her own education while aiding her community in a time of crisis turned out to be rewarding. 

“I have memories of each story (of help) but I had one specific  story about a woman named Elizabeth,” she said. 

Avendaño said Elizabeth was pregnant and infected with COVID. When she had the baby they both tested positive for the virus and they took the baby away and put the newborn in isolation. 

“The painful part of the story was that they were separated,” she said. “This was painful because I had a similar situation in 2005. I had a terrible infection and I was separated from my daughter. So I could feel her (Elizabeth’s) pain. The feeling I had at that moment was that her pain was my pain.”

So Avendaño went to the hospital to comfort Elizabeth. 

“I just had to help her and help her family,” she said. “Later, (after she was released and reunited with her baby and family) she called me to thank me and I felt like, “Wow, I’m doing something important in Elizabeth’s life. The other important part was I was doing something for my community”. 

Avendaño reported that Elizabeth is now part of two cooperatives at the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity. 

“She’s taking classes in college and, with her husband, is working with food cooperatives to help families,” said Avendaño. “This is a beautiful story of how change and opportunity can come from crisis.”

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