Guest Author: Steve Davis
Director of Farmworker Outreach at Greene County Health Care | Snow Hill, NC
This week during National Health Center Week, we honor and recognize all of the diverse communities and populations Health Centers across the country provide with high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent care. Today, in recognition of Farmworker Health Day, we are honoring the Migrant & Farmworker Health Center Grantees and the thousands of migrant and seasonal farmworkers cared for by health centers.
When I think of the outreach health centers provide in their communities, I think of the story by Loren Eisley. A young boy was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When he came to each starfish, he would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean. People watched him with amusement. He had been doing this for some time when a man approached him and said, “Little boy, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!” The boy seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, he bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I m
ade a difference to that one!”
That is what we do as outreach workers. We work long, crazy hours, many times at night. We work on weekends, in the heat, and in the middle of no-where. And more times than not we feel overwhelmed. It seems like we are being pulled in a thousand different directions at once. All of that doesn’t matter when we are able to help that one farmworker who wouldn’t have made it to the Greene County Health Care without our help or who wouldn’t have received their medicine if we didn’t deliver it to them. The long hours don’t matter when the health education we provide in their homes, in the hopes that they may be a little safer while working in the fields, is successful. These are just a few things we do as outreach workers and in caring for Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker patients. If at the end of the day we were able to help just one farmworker, we have accomplished our goal.
Every year, Greene County Health Care serves more than 20,000 Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers and their dependents.
Health Center Outreach workers wear many hats. They serve as health educators, case managers, transporters, interpreters, and medication deliverers. They serve as a bridge between health centers and farmworker communities. However, one of the most important roles we play as outreach workers is to truly care about the farmworkers we serve. Ultimately, we give a sense of belonging to a population that many times feels like they don’t belong.
Over the 18 years I have been the Director of the Farmworker Outreach Program, I have seen traumatic injuries, terrible illnesses, deaths related to accidents on the farm, and many heart attacks at the farmworker camps. However, within the farmworker community I have also seen many acts of strength, honesty, bravery, selflessness, giving without expecting anything in return, a sense of family even among those not related by blood, and a sense of honor and respect when they were being treated without respect.
I personally have learned from farmworkers the importance of family, religion, the many ways a person can be healed, and giving from your heart without expecting anything in return. Most of all, I have ALWAYS been welcomed and treated as family at every camp I have visited. I am proud to be considered family at many of these camps and even prouder to consider them my family as well.
Outreach workers are critical to the health center mission of creating healthier communities, particularly among the Seasonal and Migrant Farmworker population. Not only are we providing health care services out in the camps, at churches, and in the fields, we are the ones that are forming a bond with the farmworkers. We let them know that they are not just welcomed at our health center but are also appreciated for the hard work they do to make sure we have fruits and vegetables on our tables. It is our job and responsibility to make sure they are treated with dignity, just like everyone else that walks in the health center’s doors.
Most importantly, no matter how many starfish we have picked up along the beach and hurled back in the ocean, we will keep going until there are none. Because every farmworker matters!