Sunday, March 9, 2014

CIW march and rally at Wendy's headquarter's in Dublin, Ohio

Wendy's is one of the last major fast food chains who have not signed the fair food agreement with the CIW. 

Last Day

On our last day in Immokalee we took a day off and enjoyed a day at the beach! It was a beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky.  It was a bit windy which made it a little chilly and hard to tell that we were all getting burnt.  We are all in a bit of pain as we come back to Pittsburgh. Although I didn't personally swim, the people who went into the ocean said the water was beautiful and that it was warmer than the air.  Even though we all got burnt, I would have to say we all had a perfect relaxing day after an even better week of hard work! After the beach, we went out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, Mi Ranchito.  It was delicious and great to have one last dinner witheveryone together.  After dinner, we went to Mass in Spanish.  I found it challenging to understand the mass but it was very interesting and great to experience.  Unlike Ash Wednesday, we were able to sit inside the church and participate.  Although I wasn't able to understand what they were always saying, I felt so much faith within this church and community.  This showed us how even though these people don't have a lot of material things, they have a lot of love and faith in their hearts and that they were happy this way.  I feel like this is a message that everyone should experience once in their life. 
On a side note, a funny story that happened after church was our race to the showers.  Throughout the week we have been showering at a Sports Complex that only has four showers and closes at nine every night.  It was about 8:20 and two cars of people had to still shower.  With Kate driving one van and Father driving the other (I was in Father's), we had raced to the showers, all trying to get there first. Father arrived first and parked while Kate drove her group right up to the door.  Once we saw that they were going to beat us, we all jumped out of the car and ran as fast as we could towards the entrance.  As we were getting closer, we all came to a sudden halt and realized that the Sports Complex had already closed and that none of us were going to shower.  We all burst out laughing and saw that a whole little league baseball game had witnessed our race and sudden disappointment. As strange as this sounds, this moment was a perfect ending to our trip!     
Before we all went to bed, we shared a reflection about what we had all learned this week. I think it is easy to say that we all shared an eye opening experience here in Immokalee that had changed our lives and made us grow together.  Through this trip we had became a family and life long friends through the tough and funny moments. We had only spent seven days together but it has felt that we have been friends forever.  We haven't laughed this hard in the longest time and had the greatest time even if we were sleeping on the hardest floor and hammered our thumbs every other nail. We shared a memory and an experience together that not many can relate too. Through this many of us had learned more about ourselves and found who we are. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Finding a View Point

All week we have been trying to learn and develop a personal opinion on the migrant farm workers in Immokalee.  Today we were given a fantastic opportunity to a personal tour of a Lipman farm. The Lipman farm recently signed on to a food agreement with Walmart to make sure their workers are being treated with dignity and respect. At the farm we were shown tomatos, green beans, green peppers, and oranges. I was amazed at the amount of produce that is not marketable to consumers. The tour guide told us that 50% of the produce they pick is tossed away and not sold. This is not because the food is bad but, because the produce is unappealing to the eye of the consumer. We also were able to ask many questions on the wages of farmworkers and were assured in an indirect way that each worker makes at least minimum wage each hour they work in the field. The most intresting part was seeing the workers housing on the farm. I was expecting them to be small and dirty, but they were about the same space as a college dorm room with bathrooms and a kitchen. We were told Lipman farms houses 95% of their workers on thier farms. Another surprising thing we were told that this Lipman farms plant crops for 52 weeks a year so most of the farmworkers at this farm stay and work all of these weeks besides the people who come with workers contracts from Mexico to work on the farms for a few weeks. 

The whole experience at the farm really contrasted the talk that we had with Gloria last night. At the farm, the man that gave the tour was very diplomatic in all his answers. I felt their was some unsaid information from the man giving the tour but also from the farmworker Gloria. This experience has compelled me to look further into the issues regarding immigration and the laws currently in place in our county because both of these groups have contrasting view points on immigration. One of the most prominent topics disucssed by the group this week is the ideal of a straight awnser to an issue. We can all agree that one does not exist for the issues down in Immokalee. This frustrates me. We can walk around the fields and learn about all the positive things the farm is doing but they will not tell you about the negative aspects to the buisness. Likewise to the farmworkers; they will tell you all the information about the farmers that is negative but not the positives of the business. This makes it extremely difficult to find information that is not bias on the topic of immigration and farmworkers. But this is true on every situation. This trip has opened my eyes to think more citically about what information the media and public pay attention to and what they ignore or hide. 

A Locational Plus...

One of the best things about coming to Immokalee is the access to so much deliscious food! With the pinhooker market being just down the road, there is fresh produce to make homemade salsa, guacamole, tacos, enchiladas and more!!! And of course
You can't forget how the Mexican food is so much better in this area... This week we had tamales, and some Agua fresca(pictured) from some local markets...

Here are some highlights
Of our meals in Inmokalee!

Farm tour at Lipman

Today we took a tour of a Lipman farm in Estero, fl with our guide Scott... He showed us orange groves, tomato, potato, pepper and bean fields... It was amazing to e able to eat fruits and veggies right off the vine
Elana and Attila enjoying some fresh orange juice that is typically use for Sumple Orange juice back home in Pittsburgh

We learning about agriculture
From the farmers perspective. While Lipman is the largest fresh produce production business in Florida, it gave our group a better idea of what farmer face on a regular basis

Students in a tomato field and below the group in a potato field

Over the years this portion has moved to a more transparent way of business. Companies are able to conduct their own audits of the fields before choosing to purchase from this specific company. 

We were even able to see where a Farmworkers day begins and ends on the fields at their time clock shed
Overall a great addition to the trip!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

No Rain, No Rainbow

This Thursday, a day filled with not only Florida showers, but was filled with moments I hope to remember for a very long time in my life.    

A lesson to learn for me personally related to conquering fears and controlling your own future today.   This happens when one molds their own story through experience and harsh realities.  

I started the day by voluteering with Habitat for Humanity for Collier County.  The first half of my time there was spent on hammering boards on top of planks.  Did I not mention my fear of heights?  
Not long after, our group started caulking the inside of a house.  The fact that it began to pour was the reason behind us working indoors.    

The raining of cats and dogs was not my cup of tea at all at first.  In fact, the idea of it bothered me since I checked the weather app on my phone and woke up to skies filled with grey this morning.  I have a big fear of getting my hair wet because I am not too fond of its natural, curly state.  The frizz is also uncontrollable.  Now just imagine this all consuming my mind while trying to play attention to hammerming my whole hand to the house.   I realized all this stress I added to my time there was very unnecessary, and here is why:
The rain began to bring so much thought to my mind, and assited with my processing of another moment that occurred tonight.  Being one of minorities of the trip, and the only African-American of the group helped me learn to appreciate my culture and to connect with those do not look exactly the same as I do on the outside.  But it's just skin, it's just a different background.  And that is for all of us: even those in the same ethniticy.  We can even understand that when we get involved with much of the immigrants we have encountered this week.  

Meeting Gloria Hernandez, a Mexican paralegal of the Immokalee area, and gaining knowledge of her experience in working in agriculture and her involvements now in the movement toward immigration reform, taught me so much about being grateful and appreciating that we are one.  Words cannot simply explain what we took from her encounter, but it ended on a sympathetic, yet fulfilling note.  I cannot speak for all of us, but what I can say is that when someone tells you of their hardships, like being sold and traveling up and down two countries to make for a better life, you realize how trifling your problems are.  How insignificant was my fear of hammering while standing on a piece of wood, or how petty was it for me to become worrysome of the way my hair looks naturally?

I want to thank God for leading me to this realization, for the whole group for accepting and complimenting me for the way a truly am, and Gloria for the eye-opener this evening.  
This trip, and much of today was extremely humbling.  

- Jess

On The Flip Side

Today, I worked with the English as a Second Language students at Amigos en Cristos. It was a new experience to teach English to students who either speak Creole or Spanish. I was assigned to work with an elderly student who was illiterate in her own language of Creol. I went over the letters of the alphabet and worked with the very basics of the written language. She did not understand any spoken English. I also met a 23 year old student who spoke in English with great confidence even though he did not know proper grammer or basic vocabulary. Talking with the young man, reminded me of the experiences that I had while on my one month visitation to India. I spoke to the people in India with broken ill grammered Hindi. I struggled to speak basic words in Hindi to get my Ideas across. I did not understand how to speak proper grammer and stopped at every sentence to conjugate verbs. Through this expereince of teaching the the ESL students, I understood the difficulties that these students undergo in getting thier ideas across on a daily bases. Being on the flip side of knowing how to speak the language of the the majority and being the teacher while I am usually the student was a rewarding endevor.                                     

A well deserved Dessert

After some excellent dinner conversation with Gloria Hernandez,a local immigration paralegal and immigration reform advocate, the group indulged in some fried tortillas and ice cream... Some of the ice cream portions were impressive, however, after all the work this week... It was well deserved!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday: Some Hindu Thoughts

Today was Ash Wednesday. We went to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church for mass. As a practicing Hindu, I always get funny looks when I say I attend Duquesne University as people often associate Duquesne with Catholicism. Instead of finding discomfort in the religions aspects of the university, I have embraced them wholeheartedly. I have attened mass at the Chapel and have been able to find God and faith like I haven't been able to before. Tonight's mass was no different.
Traffic in front of the church was horrendous and I was shocked at the number of cars that I could see. The line of cars still waiting to park seemed never ending. We found a parking spot on the grass and began to approach the church. Again, I was astounded by the number of people I saw. It was plain to see that everyone was not going to be able to fit in the church. Sure enough, we ended up outside. I could barely see over the heads of the people in front of me and could barely hear what the priest was saying even though he was wearing a microphone. I was surrounded by people in every which direction and some people were pushing and shoving to try and get just a little bit further up. Despite all of this, I felt right at home.

I was transported back to India. The scene outside a temple is no different. Dozens upon dozens of people waiting outside, not being able to see anything, let alone hear the priest, and people pushing and shoving their way through is a common occurance. The chaos and buzz is something that is very familiar to me within my own religion. Despite the distractions, there is just something about being within a large group of people who all believe the same thing as you. I may not pray to Jesus and my fellow peers and the folks of Immokalee may not pray to Krishna, but we were all there with the intention of seeking God, because we believe. That, to me, is powerful. 

The priest explained that there would be various people coming around and giving ashes to everyone. This again was familiar. In the temple, multiple aartis are carried around by multiple people in order to reach everyone in an efficient manner. The chaos during this part of the night, also struck very near to my own religious experiences. 

It may seem weird to most that I get ashes every year since coming to Duquesne. Hindus burn incense in their homes in front of their temples. Incense is also burned in temples. As we offer the incense and sweet aroma to God, we believe that we get back blessings in the form of ashes. These ashes are often placed as a dot on the forehead. To me, getting ashes signfies the blessing of God and I'm not one for turning away a blessing, no matter who it comes from. Allowing myself to have an open mind and taking advantage of opportunities such as this mission experience has expanded my horizons. By surrounding myself with others who believe, I have been able to find more strength than ever in my own beliefs.

Lunch at the lake

Taking a break to enjoy
Lunch on lake trafford.... We even found a croc!

Building for the Children of God

Today, a group of eight spent the day at Faith Landing, a Habitat for Humanity site. This was my first expereince with Habitat for Humanity and it could not have gone better. We spent the day in the sun nailing boards and straps for the foundation of the houses. I have never done such hard labor like this before. Everyone was sweating, tired, dirty, but most importantly, every single person at the site had a huge smile. We met the Supervisor named Michael who was so caring and you could tell with one look at him how much he cared about this job and service that he was doing. There were many elderly volunteers who were so kind and welcoming to us. Their bodies may have been old but their spirit is what enables them to do such hard work. Everyone on the site was so motivating and happy that it made us so excited to be there. A woman who worked for the company explained how families get into these homes. They are very afforable homes with heat and central air, stirdy to withstand the weather, and spatitious for a big family to enjoy together. Hearing about how excited some of these families were to move in made our work that much better because we couldn't help but to do everything in our power to do as much as possible.
For me, today was a much brighter day than the first. The first day we learned about the cases of slavery, poverty, and took a tour to physically see what the farmworkers low wages caused the community and housing to look like. It left me wondering at the end of the day how else can I help besides being an ally to the CIW and farmworkers? That I'm just a single person sincerely wanting to help these people but feeling like there is just too much to do and that I wouldn't be a big enough impact. Working at Habitat for Humanity today answered that question by teaching me that the little things make the biggest impacts. Yes we only had a small part in building all of these houses but in the bigger picture, we were a vital part in promoting change and happiness for many families in need. The newspaper Habitat for Humanity puts out has a picture of a small family in front of the foundation of a house which will soon be theirs and their smiles could illuminate a room. Knowing we were a small contribution to those smiles made it beyond worth while. Also, just interacting with the people of Immokalee made me realize how positive and hopeful these people are. I've never seen a sense of community like Immokalee has. It's incredible how even the non-English speaking residents can communicate through smiles and kind gestures like even just going out of their way to teach us how to nail the boards or showing us how to clean up. There are barriers between us and the people of Immokalee yes, however, those barriers seem to get smaller by the day. It's not them with barriers but it's us. They are so welcoming to us into their hometown and it's almost unbelievable how happy they are despite their situations. I think the biggest lesson I learned today was how all of us students, Immokalee residents, and people from all over the world are so similar regardless of what we look like, how we talk, or any stereotypes that may exist. We are all children of God and helping one another and just being open to learning about one another is an incredible expereince. Relgiously, I feel closer to God here in Immokalee. It's like every way you turn it feels like the light of God and Jesus is just radiating through these people. We are all peers in the end and these people of Immokalee are starting to feel like a family to us. There's never a person who looks at us like we should leave or that we are out of place. Every corner you turn there is a smile waiting for you that just makes everything so worth it. Knowing the financial situations these families have makes me realize how much priveledge I have had in my life that I have never been more greatful for. The thing I hope for most is that I go home from this trip taking the spirit of Immokalee with me and sharing it to people in Pittsburgh. It feels like a community of God here and I will forever take the experience of building homes for the most precious children of God with me forever. Today definitely empowered me to want to do more and make small changes in this city for years to come so that hopefully one day all of our small impacts together make a big enough one to be heard by people around the world. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Allies in Action

This morning a couple members of our group joined the CIW and allies at the CIW headquarters to help with the preparations for the upcoming actions... As usual, our group jumped into help with whatever tasks needed to be done... You can see there was some supply organizing and database entry! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Care for Community

Our first activity of our first day in Immokalee was lead by the Coalition of Immokalee workers with a presentation and a tour of the community. Julia, an Immokalee farmworker and CIW staffer, presented an overview of the CIW and her insightful perspectives. Although I've heard so much about the CIW and how they work since I am attending this trip for the second time, I don't think I'll ever know it all or learn enough. Hearing personal stories and unique perspectives always add to my awareness that a program like this is so incredibly complex as it impacts and transforms countless lives. I realized through her speaking about how the CIW fair food program is expanding in the tomato fields that so many other areas of agriculture can be experiencing injustices unknown and that people could be greatly in need for something like this. We then took a walking tour around Immokalee seeing the housing units in which the farmworkers live and the area in which modern day slavery took place. Although it is terrible living conditions for most, it hits you that you're walking through people's everyday lives and that this is what they call home. It makes the desire for justice and human rights so much more personal when you see the families and meet the farmworkers.

Next, some of us went to Guadalupe Early Learning Center to help the teachers and play with the kids. The center is a kindergarten preparatory school which helps improve literacy and learning skills for children from only six weeks old to five years old. I thought it was so great that they are setting these kids up to succeed in school and learn throughout life. It amazes me how open and receptive kids are with meeting new people and learning. I had such a fun time playing with them and seeing their different personalities. This is us playing in the sandbox!

Today was a great start to the week and I'm already learning so much with these amazing experiences of community. I can feel the care for the Immokalee community and the call to find justice for them rising. I can't wait to see what the rest of the week has in store. 

Watching the Paint Dry....?

Today, half of the group went to Immokalee Housing and Family Services to work at Timberridge, one f their neighborhoods with family home units. The goal of the day was to help with some maintenance projects that IHFS is not able to get to throughout the year. We got there around 1:30 and met with Susan,  the woman in charge of the facility. She informed us about how the facility worked to provide the poorer people in Florida with affordable housing. After we learned about the different houses that were offered, such as two bedroom and three to four bedroom, we went to work!!! Our job for the first three hours of the afternoon was to work in the area called Timber Ridge painting the front and back doors of the houses a new color to match the windows and garage color.  This was actually way more interesting than I thought it would be.  Watching and seeing the people who actually lived in the houses that we were working on was a different experience.  I think that during service experiences it's easy to not realize who you're actually helping.  But while we were painting we saw all of the people around us who lived in the houses. We saw how they reacted and how they felt about what we were doing.  When I saw the people in the community, I tried to put myself in their shoes.  Honestly, my first thought was that I would be embarrassed to come back to my house to other people fixing it up.  But then I started to think about it more and realized how these people have difficulties that I can't even imagine.  They come back to a house with relief and gratitude.  The difference in their automatic reaction of gratitude and my automatic reaction of embarrassment shows me that this experience really is a shock to me and is something that I haven't experienced yet. I like the fact that I have the opportunity to see a different part of the world that I don't see in Pittsburgh.  The amount of need and gratitude is different than anything I experience at home or at school.  It's only been one full day in Immokalee and I already have gotten a new education and outlook on the hardships that other people experience.  

First Day...

After a long day of travel on Sunday, the group began their week in Immokalee with a CIW presentation and a walking your of downtown Immokalee thanks to Julia, Santiago and Joe. 

Below there are students gathered in the CIW headquarters learning about CIW history and current campaigns, hearing about and seeing the housing situation in the area, and at the site of Navarete case of modern day slavery, prosecuted in 2007.