Have you been feeling strange and disconnected and lonely these last few weeks? We have, too. I’ve also been thinking about how many farmworkers often feel that way in a normal year. Many times, they only leave their houses to go to work, or to go to the store once a week. They’re separated from their families, who they can only reach by phone or video call. In normal years, our staff has enjoyed being a bright spot and a point of connection for farmworkers. We show up to provide services, but also to have conversations and to be a human connection to farmworkers who are far from home.
So we’ve been grieving our inability to do that in the same way this year, as farmworkers start to arrive. Farmworkers we’ve known for years have started to call us to tell us they’re here or will soon be arriving. “When will you come visit?” they ask us, and we’ve had to tell them that this year, we just don’t know.
Our physical office is closed at least until the end of April, and possibly longer. We are all working from home, with occasional trips in to the office to pick up supplies needed to continue this work. Recommendations from the NC Farmworker Health program, and other public health experts, are that we not do in-person outreach right now in order to maintain social distancing and to protect farmworkers and ourselves. We also can’t provide transportation, especially since we don’t have proper PPE that we would need to do that safely.
But we are trying our hardest to stay connected. Our staff is meeting on Zoom every day and trying to recreate the in-office camaraderie that made work so much fun. We are reaching out by phone to all farmworkers whose numbers we have (many H2A workers change numbers each year). When farmworkers call us to tell us they’re on their way, we ask them to get their coworkers to call us, too. We’ve been checking in with farmworkers over the phone about their health, their worries, and their questions. Several of our staff have helped coordinate clinic appointments over the phone. We are working to make sure farmworkers with chronic health needs can still get the medication they need.
And we’re trying to see the bright side. We miss going to camps. We hope we’ll be able to visit farmworkers in person later this summer. In the meantime, we’ve all learned a lot about technology, and are experimenting with video calls for health education and with creating short videos to send to farmworkers. We’re trying to be creative and hopefully come out of this with some new skills and a new enthusiasm for our work. And we are advocating to make sure farmworkers are included in planning for this pandemic (more on that later!).
Until we can go back to in-person work, we’ll try to capture what we’re learning and to stay in touch here and on social media. We’re hoping that by the end of the season, we get to be back in our tiny office with tons of volunteers and summer staff and interns. We hope we’ll get to see many of you there. Until then, stay in touch with us virtually! And support us with donations if you’re able – if not, we also accept encouraging messages. Thanks for all of your support.