“People like you don’t go to college,” were the hopeless words a school counselor gave to undocumented student Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca when she found out she didn’t qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and started looking for guidance and other options. The program offers students the possibility of paying their education through a loan, but to be eligible, the applicants must have a social security number.
“When I was in high school I found out that because I was undocumented, I was not going to be able to qualify for FAFSA like all my other friends,” shares Espinoza Salamanca to Forbes Magazine. “I asked my counselor for guidance on other options to finance my college education, and she said that people like me didn’t go to college.”
Despite the Migration Policy Institute report that in 2017 out of almost 3.6 million Dreamers, only about a third of that quantity qualified for the DACA policy. As an effort to avoid being part of the statistics, Espinoza Salamanca turned her desire of seeking higher education into a free national mobile app designed to help thousands of students around in the same situation. The DREAMers Roadmap helps users to find scholarship opportunities regardless of legal status.
“As the youngest of 11 and the first in my family to want to go to college I had prepared myself and had worked so hard to get the best grades possible to have this response,” said Espinoza Salamanca. “It took me a while to realize that I was probably not the only one in this situation and that is when the initial idea of ‘one day somehow I’m going to have to fix this problem’ [came to be].”
“We are a country of immigrants and many of our giant companies have been founded by immigrants so why not educate our immigrants and accept them,” she added. “We as a country are losing so much talent and potential by making it so hard to educate these students. You would think we want to be a society of the most educated people but we make it nearly impossible for these kids to have an opportunity to be an essential part of this country. This is our home too.”
To develop her nonprofit app, she submitted her idea to Voto Latino’s Innovator Challenge, winning $100,000 to launch the project. “We have been blessed to have been so successful in our young company. We have helped close to 20,000+ students find scholarships to go to college,” revealed Espinoza Salamanca, “We hear from our users via social media or email on how our app has changed their lives. As I travel the country sharing my story and my work I’ve been blessed to have met many of the users of our app and hearing their stories reminds me that we are doing a good job and fulfilling our mission of bringing hope and financial opportunities to immigrant communities.”
She also revealed to the magazine that protection in number one priority when it comes to the app. “One of the ways we protect our users is by only asking them for an email to create an account and not asking for any personal information. We also created a feature called ‘explore’ which allows any user to see all of our scholarships without having to create an account. We also try to post motivational quotes or videos on our social media reminding our users of the importance of continuing their education despite the current administration’s fears,” she continued.
The young entrepreneur also took the opportunity to advise students to resist and keep fighting for their dreams.