The family that studies together, thrives together
July 26, 2016

Yolanda Bethencourt, centre, with her children Miguel and Carolina.

Yolanda Bethencourt, centre, with her children Miguel and Carolina.

When riots and gunfire broke out near the university campus that Miguel Herrera Bethencourt was attending, his mother Yolanda decided enough was enough.

She felt saddened to watch Venezuela, her native country, descend into unrest and violence. It was time for her children to study somewhere safer.

Her journey to find a safe educational haven for Jesus Felipe, Carolina and Miguel has brought them to Georgian College in Barrie, where all four family members are now enrolled in various programs.

Back home, Yolanda, her husband and her father were all civil engineers operating their own professional firm. But tragically, both her husband and father passed away, leaving Yolanda struggling to operate the company on her own. Then the shooting began outside her son’s campus. He was safe this time, but for how much longer, she wondered?

From Venezuela, Yolanda was able to get first one son enrolled in studies at Georgian, then another and finally, her daughter. Jesus is studying Computer Systems Technician – Networking; Miguel is in Civil Engineering Technology; and Carolina is enrolled in Culinary Management. All three are so dedicated to their studies that each maintains top academic standing on the Dean’s List.

Seeing how well her children were doing, Yolanda herself worked hard to upgrade her high school English and qualified to attend Georgian as a student in Hospitality and Tourism, beginning in January 2016. All four now live together in a house in Barrie while attending Georgian.

Always enthusiastic, Yolanda has jumped into college life with vigor. In March, she ran for election with the Georgian College Students’ Association – and won a position as a director.

“I just want to be part of the college,” she said. “Like anyone else, we have had our ups and downs, but people at the college and in Barrie have been just so helpful to us. My children all have Canadian friends and are doing so well in school.”

Members of a homestay family who hosted Miguel when he first came to Barrie have taken the Herrera Bethencourt family under their wing and helped them find housing.

“It’s so nice to know we are not alone,” she said.

Yolanda’s hard work and commitment have also won her the respect of Georgian faculty. In supporting Yolanda for a scholarship, counsellor Cindy Korpatnicki wrote that Yolanda’s courage to seek a better life for herself and her children after her husband’s premature death “is an inspiration, not only to me, but also to many of her much younger classmates.”

English teacher Jennifer Hickey said she has no doubt that Yolanda will excel in anything she commits to.

“I wish her well, but not luck, for it is not luck but her tenacity and positive outlook that have got her this far,” Hickey wrote.

Yolanda is touched by such kind words and is striving to give back to the college and her classmates through her volunteer work. In the meantime, she and her son Miguel recently celebrated their latest accomplishment – winning academic awards in each of their programs.