Michele Collins, South Carolina
My experience is that of a health educator working in a community health center. As the only staff proficient in Spanish working with a farmworker population that was predominantly Latino and mono-lingual Spanish, there were many responsibilities that were added to my daily routine, such as scheduling and translating appointments.
My responsibilities included educating the community about the farmworkers who came annually to work there, and I soon realized that working with the wider community and the health center were just as important as my work with farmworkers. I was an important resource to both parts of the community, a cultural broker of sorts, and my work in the community could help build a more supportive, healthy environment for the farmworkers who came there to work.
There are many challenges I dealt with on a day-to-day basis: trying to plan educational activities for a population that is spread out and often isolated; working with local growers and health center staff to help them understand the strengths and needs of farmworkers; and, perhaps most challenging, trying to address some of the bigger issues in the community that affected health (like discrimination based on ethnicity and class, hazardous working conditions and poor housing), while still meeting the immediate needs. The biggest challenge for me was to learn that I can not do everything. The health needs of farmworkers can be overwhelming, especially if you are the sole health educator who is both planning and providing educational programs to the population in an area. I had to assess how to maximize my time and reach the most numbers of people.
While the needs are overwhelming, the rewards are pretty fantastic. Building relationships and developing trust with people was the most rewarding part of my job. The relationships I built with the farmworkers with whom I was working helped me sustain myself when I was feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and ineffective. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I loved my job with a passion, and, knowing what I do now, I would definitely choose to work again as a health educator with farmworkers. (Michele Collins is currently at the University of North Carolina completing an MPH.)