The Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles Will Open its Fourth Nest Space this September in Tijuana

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

“A Nest is a home—a place where the young are safe and protected.”

Lindsay Feldman Weissert has been working hard on opening a safe space in Tijuana for young asylum-seeking children from the border.

The Palisadian mother of two joined the Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles in 2017.

“I had young children and wanted to figure out a way to help young kids,” she explained.

The institute, known as PILA, was founded in 2014 by Alise Shafer Ivy to support children by preparing teachers, offering educators throughout Los Angeles a place to research, learn, discuss, debate and share their work.

In 2015, PILA launched The Collaborative Teacher Project with the goal of providing equal access to quality early education by partnering with public transitional kindergarten and kindergarten teachers in Title 1 schools—schools with a large concentration of low-income students.

“The first thing we do is we completely transform the environment of the classroom,” Feldman Weissert said. “We bring in new materials, we repaint and we turn it into a workshop that inspires curiosity and wonder.”

Feldman Weissert shared that after a while, the team said to themselves: “OK, this is great that we’re helping children in LA,” but they wanted to expand their programming to help refugee children who needed early education abroad.

“That’s where I came in,” Feldman Weissert said. “I help run the Nest program.”

Each Nest that PILA opens offers a beautiful, peaceful space where refugee children can come together to play under the supervision of an international coalition of Nesters, educators from all over the world who volunteer for at least two weeks. The program also employs the help of adult refugees that have experience in the field of education.

“These are places where children can learn peaceful conflict resolution, they can learn socialization skills,” Feldman Weissert explained. “But most importantly, it’s a place for kids to play and children can just be children.”

The name comes from the idea that a Nest is a safe, peaceful, nurturing space where children can play and grow.

In 2018, PILA opened its first Nest for young refugee children living in Lesvos, Greece. The next year, a second Nest opened on the Greek island of Samos.

“These [refugee] camps are violent places,” Feldman Weissert said. “It was important that they have a way of learning how to interact peacefully with other children so when they do go on to schools in Greece and other places, they can get along with other children.”

Feldman Weissert explained that a big part of Nest’s education philosophy is that there are no set craft projects and no adult-led activities because of what the children have been through.

“They’ve had no agency in their lives,” she said. “They’ve been picked up, stuffed into trucks, in the back of trains, walking long distances. A lot of times, when they get into the Nest, they don’t have any independence or freedom in their lives. When they get into the Nest, it’s really important to us that they have agency and choice.”

This year, a Nest has opened at the Congo Peace School in Mumosho, and in mid-September, there will be a Nest opening in Tijuana.

The Tijuana Nest is located across from a shelter and can host about 60 kids at a time.

“They come from Central America and Mexico, and they have nothing to do there in this really crowded, cramped shelter,” Feldman Weissert explained. “I’m really excited to open this space for them.”

She added that hopefully eventually they will also be able to provide psychosocial support and maybe legal services, but the main thing will be having a Nest for the kids to play in.

Feldman Weissert has seen the positive effects of the Nests first-hand.

“When I was in Lesvos, I was working with a 7-year-old,” she explained. “He was a refugee from Pakistan—he took out a crinkled article from his pocket to show me.”

He pulled out an article about the Golden Gate Bridge, sharing with Feldman Weissert that he wanted to be an engineer when he grows up. He took one look at the Nest’s Mag Wall, a system of ramps and balls, and his eyes lit up.

He worked with the younger children, setting up the ramps and balls to show them how to make the balls fall in a certain way. His mom later went up to Feldman Weissert and said that this was the first time he really had a chance to explore his dream of engineering.

“The first thing I’ve learned is that playing with children is the same no matter where you are,” Feldman Weissert said. “Children are resilient, they will find a way to play and have fun anywhere in the world. It makes you realize that we’re all kind of the same.”

When asked if the program was looking into opening in other locations, Feldman Weissert responded, “Not at the moment, but I have dreams.” She added that the group has a hard time saying no, so if someone were to come to them with an opportunity where there is a dire need for a Nest, they figure out the funding part of it later.

And as the team prepares for the opening of the Tijuana Nest, there are opportunities for Palisadians to help.

“It’s a unique project because there are a lot of things that are going on at the border,” Feldman Weissert said. “People want a boots-on-the-ground way to volunteer and there aren’t that many opportunities … most other organizations are tricky because they’re legal services or medical services.”

Those interested can sign up to be Nesters or to sponsor other Nesters. There are also wish lists with items that may be purchased.

“Donate money, donate time,” Feldman Weissert said, “come down and work with us … We’d love to have you. We work because of people like Palisadians.”

For more information or to donate, visit thinkwithus.org/nest-tijuana.