Friday, March 2, 2012

The. End.

As our trip to Immokalee comes swiftly to an end, I look back at the past week.  It has been full of enlightening experiences and growth amongst ourselves.  As the twelve of us have come together, mostly as strangers, we have learned much about ourselves, each other, and most importantly this community in Immokalee.  We were once asked this week by the youth of Immokalee what we had expected on this trip and what we think now.  I think I can speak for all of us and say we have found what we expected and more.  We came in educated about the basics of life in Immokalee but living the experience is worth much more than a classroom session.  As for what we think of Immokalee now, we came here with open arms and are leaving more passionate than we were when we arrived.  This experience has been priceless.  What we have taken from Immokalee could not be found anywhere else.  Experiencing a welcoming community, simple living, and lack of usual routine under these circumstances, has collectively created this trip into the learning experience of a lifetime.  Those of us who don’t return to Immokalee will surely never forget the week we’ve spent here and will never fail to educate those who haven’t experienced it.
-Ashley, Sophmore

Artwork with the CIW

Today students were able to assist in some artwork for the upcoming Fast for Fair Food that the CIW has planned for March  5th-10th in Lakeland at Publix Headquarters

Getting some tips from SFA volunteer, Marina

Hard at work!

ITown's Ups and Downs

Students in front of tomato creates after out tour in the plant

Today was once again an action packed day in Immokalee.  We began our morning getting an exclusive tour of a tomato packing plant, which is the middle stopping point tomatoes make before being distributed throughout the country.   The plant was not operating today while we were touring because production starts later in the day once the produce arrives.   Many questions were asked surrounding two topics:  the labor force in the fields and the issues surrounding farmworkers, and changes in the labor force within the plant as a result of a transition to more technology and less physical handling of the delicate tomatoes.  We were presented with answers that personally, I found difficult to fully believe.  It was interesting how the responses to each question seemed tailored to actually answer a different, yet similar, question, and were also incredibly rehearsed.  For example, a fellow student asked a question about genetically modified food and the answer was about organic food.  While the two topics both concern popular topics in agriculture, they are in fact quite different.  Having been to the same packing plant in a previous trip (during which they were operating), it was impossible for me not to think of all the people that lost jobs as a result of the technology.  Sure, the change is supposedly safer in terms of health and potential bacterial contamination issues, however that does not hide the apparent fact that half of the production line I saw on the first trip was missing, and what was still there had no stools in front of it for people to sit at.  Again, this topic was avoided with the statement that after the shift to computer operated tomato inspection all employees were trained to operate the computers.  Realistically, companies do not make multimillion-dollar investments AND keep the same labor force.  Diversion after diversion occurred with each of the questions, and finally questions probably became a little too close to home for our visit to be welcomed anymore, and our time at the plant came to an end.  
While the visit was frustrating because of the warped view on reality and ignorance our two guides possessed, it is important to remember that the company that operates this plant did sign the worker’s rightsagreement with the CIW in October 2010.  Signing this contract means abiding by the Code of Conduct (which includes auditing, safety regulations, complaint resolution, and worker education) and agreeing to pay farmworkers the penny more per pound (the heart of the Campaign for Fair Food).  Despite the past major victories and recent strides the CIW has been able to make throughout the Campaign for Fair Food, resistance is still being seen and the focus now has shifted to grocers including Publix, Kroger, and Giant.  Hopefully, these companies will come to terms with human rights and agree to abide by things most of us take for granted every day:  dignity for the human person. 
-Michelle, 5th year Pharmacy 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Working with Highschool Students

Over the past two days I have had the opportunity to work with students enrolled in the Tutor Corps program at the local high school in Immokalee. The first day we were able to assist the junior students while they filled out applications for different collegiate summer programs throughout the United States. Not only were we able to help them complete the applications, but we were also able to alleviate some fears the students were facing in regards to enrolling in college. Personally, I was able to talk to a young man who is interested in becoming a nurse, which is my major. I introduced him to some options he has in the nursing field, such as becoming a nurse practitioner, that I wish I would have known about prior to going off to college. Today we had the opportunity to have a panel discussion with a group of high school students who were a mixture of freshman and sophomores. Throughout this discussion they had the opportunity to ask us any questions they may have about our personal majors, Duquesne University, food, campus life, and many other things. Even though we were there to help the high school students, I know we all got a lot out of the experience as well. Personally, it reminded me of what an honor it was to have all the resources I did when I was applying to college because for most of the students we worked with they were the first in their families to attend college. Furthermore, there are numerous other students who will never have the opportunity to attend college for varying different reasons. Therefore, it really put my whole educational adventure into a new perspective. Lastly, I enjoyed getting a teenagers perspective on growing up in Immokalee we learned a lot of about the life of the farm workers and getting to see the impact that has on their children and community members was also very educational. Sometimes the littlest things can teach you more than you expect going into it, and this was definitely one of those times.
            -Megan, Sophomore Nursing Student

Understanding Habitat for Humanity

Both yesterday and today, I had the opportunity, along with the other girls, to work with other volunteers in Habitat for Humanity Collier County.  I spent my time laying tiles in a new home that was being built for an Immokalee family.  The applicants must be US citizens or permanent legal residents who must pass criminal background checks.  This nonprofit organization helps families who are not financially capable of receiving loans due to circumstance such as bad credit or insufficient funds.  They could not qualify to receive the mortgage because lack of credit, and they cannot make a down payment on the house.  Essentially, the houses built are sold to the working poor.  I learned that future homeowners in the residential area must commit to 500 working hours in volunteering alongside Habitat for Humanity volunteers.  Then, the last 100 hours are spent working on their future house.  This experience taught me that as a group we as humans can accomplish so much.  I was told these houses were started six weeks ago, and already, they have roofs, floors, windows and doors.  There were volunteers from all over such as states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.  We all came together to assist in fulfilling the dream that many Americans have, of owning a house.
-Celine, Sophomore Nursing Student

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Writing History

Tonight I had the opportunity, along with some of the other girls, to sit in on the final CIW meeting before their five day fast against Publix grocer.  I have not taken Spanish since high school, so I didn’t exactly understand everything that was said, but even just sitting in the meeting was moving.  The leaders started with an activity where they asked one of the men from the meeting to break a single paint stirrer, obviously not a difficult task.  The leaders continued to add stirrers and the man continued to break them easily until there were 20 in his hand which he could not break.  This was to demonstrate that alone, each worker did not stand a chance to make a difference but if the workers, combined with the people of the churches as well as students, united in their fight, they could not be broken.  One of the most eye opening points that the leaders made was that the men and women of Immokalee were “writing history.” It is crazy to me to think that in 20 years, my children will be learning about the people that I am here working with.  Everything that was said in the meeting tonight was so powerful and yet so peaceful.  There was no anger in any of their voices, only pride and strength in what they were fighting for.  The companies that the CIW are lobbying have wronged these workers in so many ways and yet they continue to simply ask for a conversation.  That is all they want, a conversation and the ability to negotiate for fair treatment at their jobs, something that we as humans have rights to.  I am very excited to see how the coming action plays out and if Publix finally responds to the CIW’s wishes.  If not, I know that they will continue fighting for what is fair and just. If Publix finally signs on to the agreement it will be one of the CIW’s biggest victories to date, and something I know will be talked about for years to come, and I am so thankful that I have been given this opportunity to at least attempt to walk in solidarity with these strong, passionate, amazing people.
-Katie Denk, Junior

Habitat for Humanity

Here are some of the students who went to Habitat for Humanity today.  Their task was to tile an entire house!  Check out their quality work!