MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Yohana Carrillo left her hometown of Delicias fleeing political turmoil. Lack of economic opportunity also drove Carrillo to come to the United States and leave the country she still loves dearly. But leaving family behind was perhaps the saddest part of Carrillo’s story.

“I left Venezuela because of the dictatorship of Hugo Chavez,” said Carrillo. “It was the beginning of the dictatorship.”

“They [Carrillo’s family] were very sad, because no one wants to see their loved ones leaving,” said Carrillo. “But when you live in a place like Venezuela sometimes you don’t have an option but to leave the country and do what you have to do.”

At the time, Carrillo saw a world of opportunity and hope for a better future.

“One of my friends from Venezuela came to study at Syracuse University and encouraged me to come here,” said Carrillo.

Carrillo came to Syracuse, New York in 2003 where few of her other friends were living already, Her friends even paid for her plane ticket and helped her settled once she arrived. A new country and new opportunities, but new challenges as well.

“It was very difficult. Not knowing the language, not knowing the culture.”

Reality set in.

“I came to the point when I realized it was important to learn the language in other to be successful in this country.”

Carrillo then began taking English classes at a Syracuse learning center. There, she met someone she said changed her life by showing her the immense possibilities her new country had to offer. That man, an American missionery, also taught her the value of hard work and to love her new country. A lesson she will never forget.

“He became not only my friend but my mentor and in a way my American father,” said Carrillo. “Those are the things that I keep with me until this day because I know that what he taught me in that very important of my life is what I am giving right now to my community.”

Currently, Yohana Carrillo works as a Bilingual Program and Parent Specialist with the Mobile County Public Schools. Her work is part of the district’s English as a Second Language Program. Nowadays, this program offers support to around 2,000 migrant students, mostly from Latin America.

“We provide all kinds of services that you can imagine someone needs when they move to a country.”

Carillo said she never imagined she would be doing this work because she studied architecture in Venezuela. Sometimes life takes turn and take you down a different path.

Her office also aims to help new migrants feel at home, a home away from home.

“Most of the families that come to this country they don’t have a relative here, so we become the family for them.”

“Our purpose here is that everyone who comes through our doors feels welcome,” said Carrillo. “And know they have a place they feel they belong. A place that is safe for them to come and talk to us about anything that they need. It’s kind of like what you do with your family. When you need a helping hand you go to your aunt, to your uncle, to your grandma.”

Carrillo said lending a helping hand to migrant families in Mobile County is her true calling and passion.

“I know what they need because I was there at some point. I was one of them. I see myself in them because I remember that girl that came here in 2003.”

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