Unidos Update and Farmworker Awareness Week

To commemorate National Farmworker Awareness Week  (March 24-31, 2018), Farmworker Justice staff are writing blogs that touch on different aspects of farmworkers' living and working conditions.


“Life here is very hard when we harvest fruits and vegetables. The sun burns so much and we get weak, and you get irritated from so much heat. And despite that we have to work all day putting up with the fatigue, dehydration and hunger. I’ll also tell you that it’s very sad to be far from our land which is Mexico… and our loved ones like my parents, my wife and my son. But we’re here working hard so that we can support our family… and well, it’s very hard to be a farmworker, and sad because you work from sun up to sundown in the fields."

Being a farmworker can entail back-breaking, skin-blistering work. Farmworkers inevitably labor during the hottest points of the day. The wide variety of occupational hazards facing farmworkers in the field may mean choosing to protect yourself from the sun’s rays and pesticide exposure with long sleeves, pants, hats, and bandanas, or lessening your chance of heat stress by wearing lighter, or less, clothing. Purchasing items like sunscreen or sunglasses may not fall within the scope of a farmworker’s budget, or may be perceived as gendered items not appropriate for general use.

Farmworker Justice’s project “United Eliminating Barriers to Skin Cancer Prevention” (Unidos), funded by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation’s Specialty Care for Vulnerable Populations® Initiative, seeks to change farmworker access to skin cancer care and prevention. In order to effectively address these farmworker-specific challenges, community partner Vista Community Clinic not only offers free screenings to its farmworker community, but preventative education as well. The frontline of the Unidos project is its emphasis on community education. VCC seeks to meet farmworkers where they’re at in terms of their access to specialty care as well as their understanding of the causes, symptoms, and treatment of skin cancer. Unidos’s focus on creating long-term networks of community organizations, advocates, and providers that support farmworker health ensures that the connections VCC makes during the life of the project will help facilitate other initiatives in the future.

VCC and local community health worker coalition Poder Popular collaborate to host two types of events: community education events, and screening and referral events. Screening events involve the participation of a dermatologist (and occasionally medical interns and/or general practitioners as well) who examines patients and refers them, if needed, for further care. All screening events also incorporate elements of the community education events, in which Poder Popular’s lideres comunitarios discuss with community members what skin cancer is, how it can manifest itself, what the risk factors are, and why farmworkers and their families in particular need to be aware of this disease. VCC’s events take place in or near farmworker communities: local schools, farms, and the Mexican Consulate, to name a few, have hosted Unidos events. VCC also offers giveaways at these events such as SPF-proofed shirts, metal water bottles with skin cancer prevention information, mini bottles of sunscreen, and more. All dermatological services provided at the events are free, and VCC is in the process of securing low-cost follow-up care for its uninsured patients.

After reaching thousands of workers with skin cancer education and screening over 400 workers in 2017, VCC and Poder Popular look to continue their work for the rest of this year. To learn more about VCC, Poder Popular, or the Unidos project, please contact project director Rebecca Young ([email protected].)