A trio of South Similkameen women that have been working for several years to provide support and language training to seasonal agricultural workers are discouraged by the lack of support available to them.
Sandy Diaz, Susan Chapple and Sandi Nolan have been hosting English language lessons for members of the migrant farmworker community in the Lower Similkameen for six years. Headed by Diaz, who is Chilean born and speaks fluent Spanish and English, the group has also provided many other services to farmworkers including services their agricultural employers are supposed to but don’t always do.
“We organize soccer games and dinners for the workers,” said Diaz, who promotes these events to provide the workers with gathering places where they can mix and socialize. The women also help workers with their taxes, explain government forms and spend countless hours assisting them with problems they experience with their Canadian cell phones.
“There is so much time and work involved,” Diaz said, noting the group is finding the amount of work continually increasing. After the workers return to Mexico, they often still have unfinished business to conduct, and the three are the only ones they have to turn to.
As the program continues to grow, more and more farmworkers are counting on these women to assist them, often for things the workers employer’s are responsible for.
“We are often asked to provide transportation to larger centres for shopping,” Chapple said, when the farmer is unable or unwilling to do so.
Diaz noted that many other people in the community also assist the farmworkers, including Pastor Wiebbe of the Elim Tabernacle, who donates the church basement for classes religious service’s in Spanish, Pastor Don Bowden, who recently organized a pig roast for the workers and Tom Wilson who has allowed them to use his property on many occasions for dinners.
The three women host English language classes on an informal basis, run out of the Fairview Irrigation District office, and the Elim Tabernacle. They have been successful in attracting members of the migrant community, starting classes after 7 p.m., when the workers have finished their work day.
“The language barrier is a huge thing,” said Diaz, who noted that workers sometimes got turned away from their medical appointments because they arrived with no one to interpret for them.
As the program grows, and increasing numbers of workers seek out their assistance, the three women are finding themselves increasingly frustrated by the lack of support from private or public sources available to them. They are finding themselves constantly challenged to find the time and financial resources to provide the services they see are desperately needed.
They are considering what options might be available to them, including the idea of forming a society in order to attract funding.
“Right now, we are on our own,” said Diaz “We aren’t associated with a charity or society – we are doing this because we care, and these workers need this help. But more and more, we’re finding we can’t do this on our own.”