Wednesday, November 16, 2005

debris field

Usually when you hear about a debris field you think of some underwater wreck that an explorer is trying to find to unearth some mystery of the deep or a cargo of treasure lost when the ship when down.

For me the word debris field will always mean Miami's hurricane season. Maybe not just Miami though, maybe I should include Homestead.

Last night I attended a meeting of the District Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, of which I am vice-president. It was held in Homestead at the Sacred Heart Outreach Center. As a member of St. Vincent de Paul I am used to stories of trouble and need, but in Homestead, after the season of hurricanes we have experienced it's much worse - and in Homestead which helps migrant farm workers and their families it's unimaginable.

Right now 27,000 people in Homestead are out of work due to crop damage. Migrants, who come to Florida for the winter growing season, have no work and are now stranded until the next crop is planted or comes in. It will take 2 months for a new harvest of beans, corn and squash, and 3 months for a crop of tomatoes. The avacado orchards are so destroyed that there will be no new crop until June 2006. NO harvest means no work and no work means no pay and no pay means no food.

The men, women and children who are here to work the fields have no income and as agricultural workers (and many of them are not citizens) they get no government help. If they have children who are citizens the children might get help but if you have a family of 5 and only 2 of the kids are US citizens that means three in the family don't get help and the entire family must rely on the assistance provided for 2.

The Outreach Center tries to help, but it's like a drop of water in an ocean. For Thanksgiving they will distribute food bags to over 600 families (and not every family who needs it will actually get food). The children from migrant homes are often undernourished. The women don't always get pre-natal health care. Pre-schoolers are not encouraged to play and learn the basics of colors, shapes, letters, numbers, etc. mostly because the families can't afford such luxuries as "educational toys". Bored men tend to drink and then take their frustration out on their wives or kids (or both.)

One of the men who run the Center said they have a small pre-school that meets weekly. The kids come for 2 hours of educational play and a meal. The kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, most answer "nothing". Why? Because they don't know that there are options in life. All they know is survival from one day to the next. So he is trying to get Spanish speakers to visit the classroom and talk to the kids about job options. They had a firefighter speak to them one day and that impressed the kids. She didn't just show them all of the equipment but she impressed upon the kids that if they go to school and get a diploma from high school they can go tot the fire academy and learn to be a firefighter. Right now I am trying to organize other spanish speaking professionals (librarian, computer technician, office worker, social worker, psychologist, engineer, etc.) to go to the Outreach Center and speak to the kids. They have to be made aware that there are options to being a field hand and traveling all over the US during growing seasons.

Homestead is full of debris - Hurricane debris - and most of it is human.

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