We were lost. That’s what I concluded from the back of the minivan going up and down mountain roads in western North Carolina, past tiny homes and trailer parks that tourists rarely see.
“The note says look for an RV next to a dumpster.” Devereaux was in the passenger seat trying to help driver Maria.
“I have a hunch it’s down here.” The car leaned precariously to the left as Maria made a sharp turn from the pavement onto a steep gravel road. “Oops!”
She righted the minivan as my stomach took its own precarious turn.
I was traveling with an outreach team from Vecinos (Spanish for neighbors), an agency that provides primary and preventative healthcare to migrant farmworkers. They were following a tip that a new migrant worker had arrived in the area, hoping to sign him up for the program.
Maria’s hunch was right. They found the RV with not one but two new workers, both eager to sign up, and soon answering questions and getting their blood pressure, height and weight checked by the Vecinos team: Interns Devereaux Swaim (on a Student Action with Farmworkers fellowship) and Maria Vargas (herself a former farmworker) and staffer Wess Roberts. A handful of other workers at the camp teased their campesinos as they looked on.
As night began to fall a neighboring farmworker strolled over with his wife and daughter. Would they see him too? Sí, por supuesto. Of course.
The skies were pitch black by the time the white Vecinos van arrived. Executive Director Amy Schmidt and Nurse Practitioner Kathy Hefner had been at another camp giving exams; the van is equipped with a complete examination facility under a pop-up roof.
Amy’s eyes widened when she recognized one of the onlookers and went to say hello.
Soon this farmworker was inside the van getting a checkup and a clean bill of health, which relieved Amy and Kathy more than usual.
They hadn’t seen this man since the year before, when he arrived from Florida just days after major surgery. He needed time to recuperate, his doctors told him. But like many farmworkers he needed wages even more. I think Amy was happy just to see him alive.
These farmworkers earn around $250 a week, not near enough to afford preventive medical care. Health insurance is out of the question. Without Vecinos dropping in to offer free care and health education, I imagine many would find themselves in the ER one day, or worse.
Text and photos by Michael Durbin