By Jesusa Rivera, Bilingual Case Manager at Proteus, Inc., Indiana
Spring in Indiana is welcome to Hoosiers after six months of cold, snow, and freezing rain. When we experience the beginning of sunshine and warmth, a familiar saying – “This is what we have been waiting for” – fills us with anticipation. We see the violets lift their petals through the grass and the flowering trees begin to display their beauty. Memories of corn on the cob, fresh strawberries, peach pie, and warm blueberry muffins at summer picnics bring us a smile.
This year, the arrival of some of these delicious fruits and vegetables was delayed due to the amount and frequency of rain, which made planting extremely difficult, if not impossible, in some areas. When it finally appeared that the fields could be worked, it rained enough to postpone planting again.
The first few weeks are already a hardship after migrant farmworkers and their families arrive, as there are no community resources to help support their food and hygiene needs before their first paychecks are received, which may take 2-3 weeks. The added delay from the rain was devastating. While a very few of the farmworkers found it necessary to return to their home states due to the extreme weather conditions Indiana is experiencing, most had to stay and wait it out.
Jesusa Rivera, bilingual Case Manager for Proteus who also provides farmworker health & safety training, asked a farmworker these questions:
Question: “What is hindering the growth of the corn?”
Response: “The corn is not growing. It keeps raining. All last week and this week nothing but rain. Hopefully we will be back to work Wednesday.”
Question: “How does this affect the people?”
Response: “The people wanna leave go back, but they can’t because they don’t have the money for the cost that it will take to go back. Not for the gas. So we have to bear it. What could we do? We also already have the contract with the farmer/company. The bosses also can’t do anything. They have no control over it. It’s God’s work. We can’t do anything.”
Jesusa recently received phone calls from several farmworkers who desperately needed food, dry clothing and dry shelters. The farmworkers were not able to begin work in the fields due to the intermittent deluge of rain. This means their first pay check was still weeks away. Jesusa located local food pantries, soup kitchens, handed out dry clothing and found dry shelter for the farmworkers and their families.
The rain eventually did settle and work in the fields began again, but challenges for the farmworkers and their families continued.
That’s why another important part of Jesusa’s day-to-day is reaching out to the farmers, crew leaders, contractors and farmworkers in the 16 Northern Indiana counties she covers. This helps to build relationships and continue the dialogue of how Proteus, Inc. can better serve them through Proteus’s and AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs. Jesusa herself provides training for Heat Stress and Pesticide Safety in Spanish.
Prior to the day of the training, Jesusa always asks the farmer or contractor if they have specific issues they would like her to address in the training. For example, one farmer requested the farmworkers to be warned, for their safety, that during rain and/or lightning they cannot be near the irrigation equipment. During bad weather conditions, standing near the irrigation equipment could result in them getting electrocuted.
“The timing of the training is also very important.” Jesusa explains. Training can begin early in the morning before the farmworkers are in the fields, during their lunch, or at the end of the day. Jesusa is very conscious that they need to eat – all their needs are taken into consideration. One thing is for certain: Jesusa has everything worked out and ready to go before she begins the training. She has even arranged for food that they can take home with them after the training is over.
Pesticide Safety focuses on the following areas and during the training several examples are provided:
- How to protect yourself from pesticides
- Where are pesticides?
- How can pesticides hurt you?
- What if you get sick at work?
- What if pesticides get on or in you?
- The law helps protect you
- Help protect yourself
At the end of the training Jesusa explains the rights that farmworkers are entitled to: availability of water, time allowed for breaks, time allowed to eat, to receive the pay they were promised, transportation to and from the fields, and more. She answers their questions and helps put them at ease, knowing that however she can help and whenever they need her she will always be there at the front of the line advocating for them and their families or connecting them with someone who can help them.
Jesusa takes her job very seriously, as she was once a farmworker working at the age of 8, working in the same fields and in the same working conditions. Thank God for organizations such as Proteus, Inc. and AFOP!
Jesusa Rivera is a bilingual Case Manager for Proteus for 16 northern Indiana counties. Proteus, Inc. is an Iowa-based private, 501(c) 3 non-profit organization serving migrant and seasonal farmworkers, immigrants, and others since 1979. Proteus also has offices in Indiana and Nebraska. Indiana Programs include Pesticide Safety and Heat Stress Safety, Housing Education and National Farmworker Jobs Program. In addition to these programs, Proteus Case Managers handle a multitude of emergencies, such as urgent requests for food, shelter, and clothing.