The family separations happening at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past year have left many of us feeling sad, hopeless, and desperate to help. As of December 2018, approximately 15,000 children have been separated from their families and detained. Many of us wonder, when will it stop? How can we support these families? How can we show them we care?
One group of young activists in Alameda and Oakland is determined to let the children in detention centers know they are loved and supported. Eleven-year-old Kaia Marbin, her brother, Jahan, and her friend Lily Ellis launched The Butterfly Effect to visually represent each child separated from their family by creating 15,000 handmade origami butterflies to be displayed publicly. With the support of family and friends, these three kids are making a powerful visual statement in their community and around the world.
The Marbin family is not new to philanthropy and activism. Dad Seth Marbin worked at Google for 12 years where he helped found GooglersGive. When issues over immigration stirred in 2017, mom Jyothi, a pediatrician at San Francisco General Hospital, helped organize an immigration symposium for healthcare providers. The goal was to offer information and training on policies and to help families scared about their immigration status navigate through the healthcare system.
In 2018, when the Marbins learned about families being separated at the border, Kaia became very upset — and very inspired. The family quickly helped organize 2,500 people for the Families Belong Together rally at Lake Merritt in Oakland.
Lily and her mom, Zoe, also actively support families at the border: last year they initiated a campaign called Hot Chocolate for Peace, selling Mexicanhot chocolate to raise money to for the Raices Families Together Fund. This was in contrast to the people selling hot chocolate to raise money to build a border wall.
ML: What inspired you to create The Butterfly Effect? Where did the idea of butterflies come from?
Kaia: Me and Lily, we wanted to make a visual representation of how many kids were in detention centers. Butterflies migrate, and they are each unique and beautiful in their own way. And, some butterflies migrate south to Mexico, so that was symbolic too.
Lily: Kaia came to me and explained what butterflies represent in this case, and how migration is beautiful…and that we needed to represent these children in some way just to show how many kids are in these detention centers.
ML: How will you make 15,000 butterflies?
Kaia: We have lots of people helping. We even have people in Zimbabwe and London making butterflies.
We have team captains—and I just made some team captain kits, which are basically origami paper and sample butterflies, and things to get you started. I will send them to the captains. Then they will make butterflies and send them back to me. So far we have made 5,200 butterflies.
ML: Where will the butterflies be displayed?
Jyothi: We are going to be doing displays in public places like libraries, community centers, and government offices in the Bay Area, across California, and hopefully the country! We have had lots of interest from people who are not in the Bay Area in making butterflies so we are encouraging them to display the butterflies in their local communities. Our first installation is on September 3rd at Alameda City Hall!
ML: How will you communicate the initiative to the Bay Area? Will you be able to get the message to the children at the border?
Kaia: We are going to use social media sites and my brother made a website. Also, we know someone who is going to the border to volunteer—she’s going to bring butterflies and hang them on the wall, both on the U.S. side and the Mexico side.
Jyothi: Also, Amnesty International is joining us as a partner in this effort. They are going to help amplify our effort to help work towards our shared goal of ending child detention.
ML: What has been the biggest surprise so far?
Kaia: I didn’t really expect this many kids to get involved.
Lily: Being a young activist, it’s surprising to me how many people actually listen to a 10-year-old, because a lot of people don’t and a lot of people think that I’m just saying things that my mom probably just told me to say. But I actually believe in what I’m doing, and a lot of people know that and it feels really good.
Jahan: Learning that there are 15,000 children in detention centers.
Jyothi: I’ve been really inspired and surprised by the level of involvement and commitment by the kids. It’s been beautiful.
ML: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Kaia: When we string the butterflies, they get tangled so we have been spending a lot of time untangling them.
Lily: The biggest challenge has been to be brave. To be brave to go out and raise money (for Hot Chocolate for Peace), to go out and tell people to think about it and talk about it.
Jahan: Trying to design the stand to hold the butterflies.
Jyothi: The idea is so kid-generated…and there’s a lot of adult helping, facilitating and emailing that needs to happen. So it’s a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it.
ML: How does being involved in this initiative make you feel?
Kaia: Kind of excited…that we’re really doing something.
Lily: It makes me feel empowered, it makes me feel like I can make a change in the world, and honestly it makes me feel so sad that I even have to do this…but it feels good that I am doing it.
Jahan: I feel kind of sad for the kids in the detention centers, but I feel kind of happy that we’re doing something.
Jyothi: It’s been the idealism and the motivation of the children that has kept us honest in this. It’s the outrage of the kids – this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be — it just wakes us up even more.
Find out how you can support kids at the border, make butterflies and spread the word at The Butterfly Effect.