For Alexis, 6, going to school meant being forced to use the boys’ bathroom instead of the girls’. For 16-year-old Angela, school meant physical and verbal abuse starting at a young age. “I just wanted to die,” she told the Associated Press. “I didn’t want to exist, because what they did to me made me feel awful.” Now, the two Chileans students are enrolled at Amaranta Gómez, which is touted as Latin America’s first school for trans children.

The school is relatively new. It was only an idea in December 2017, Evelyn Silva, the president of the Selenna Foundation – the organization that started the school and that works with trans youth. “[It began] when we realized that 15 percent of boys and girls that belonged to the foundation didn’t complete the school year at their schools,” Silva said. “We thought of a space that was free from all types of violence.”

Instead of being on the fringes, at Amaranta – named after muxe activist and anthropologist Amanranta Gónez Regalado – their safety, development, and needs are the priority.

Classes began in April 2018 with five students. Since then, the school has grown to 22 students, and six more will join soon. Teachers teach the students – aged 6 to 17 – pro-bono, and in the first year, Silva and school coordinator Ximena Maturana funded the school entirely out of their own savings. This year, starting in March, parents will have to pay about $7 a month for tuition. “We try to reduce the costs to the minimum (for families) so that they don’t say that (kids) are not attending because they don’t have pencils, and it becomes a reason to leave school,” Silva said.

For the students, the school is about more than just learning, it’s about finding a community as well. “I’m happy here,” Alexis said, “because there are many other kids just like me.”