Refugee children in San Antonio prepare for first day of school

New schools, new country add to stress, excitement

SAN ANTONIO – New refugee arrivals last year from around the globe were the first to pick up school supplies, clothing and other necessities for their children being handed out by the Center for Refugee Services.

The center is located in the Medical Center area where many refugees live. Most of their children will be attending schools in the Northside Independent School District. 

Maurya Villarreal, one of two program support managers, said for many refugees, simply being able to attend school is a new experience.

"We've heard many stories of the various countries where girls are not allowed to go to school, or are hurt or killed for trying," Villarreal said. 

Attending new schools in a new country is said to add to the stress and excitement that any child would feel on the first day of school. 

But it also represents a new beginning for refugee families, such as Baryalai Mayel and his sons, who came to San Antonio from Afghanistan a year and a half ago.

"We know we are new, starting life from zero," Mayel said. 

He said it's been difficult for him as a father trying to provide for his family because he's been unable to find a job here in his field of computer science. He said most companies require two years of experience in the United States. 

Mayel said he drives a taxicab to make ends meet. 

"In my life, I never worked 15-16 hours, but here I have to work more than 15-16 hours," Mayel said. 

But despite the challenges, Mayel has high hopes for his sons who are intelligent and very good at math. 

Mohammad Mubarek also shares the same hopes for his sons, starting with the oldest entering third grade.

"I want my son higher than our life," Mubarek said.  

He said they fled the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and spent five years at a refugee camp on Nauru, a small island off the Australian coast, before arriving in San Antonio four months ago.

"I don't care, but I care about my kids," he said about the uncertainty that lies ahead.

The Center for Refugee Services will be distributing backpacks to 300-400 refugee students who attend schools in any San Antonio school district on Friday and Sunday at 8703 Wurzbach Road. 

To find out what more is needed, donors are encouraged to call 210-949-0062 or send an email to

Read below a letter from Mayor Ron Nirenberg welcoming refugee families to San Antonio.

Special Message From Mayor Nirenberg by David Ibanez on Scribd

About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.