While many college students headed off to party spots in the Caribbean, four New College of Florida students opted for a less glamorous destination: on the farms near Apopka.
They spent two days with immigrant farmers, living in their homes, sharing meals and working a half-day in the fields, weeding rows of cucumber plants.
It was the culmination of a tutorial class at New College, where students learned about immigration, agriculture, social justice, philanthropy and social services.
First-year student Cassandra Manz said the experience was unforgettable, from learning first-hand about their hosts’ lives to the actual exhausting work in the fields. She wrote:
The hardest part of the work was realizing that this, working in the fields, wasn’t my life but this was other people’s lives. Most of the time illegal immigrants work on the farms because they cannot work anywhere else. I asked one woman if she liked the farm work. She said it made her tired and hurt her back. She said she has two children. One of her kids is my little sister’s age.
It made me so sad when the women would ask us, “Are you okay? Are you cold, tired?” I wanted to say, “Yes, but I am not important in this! Are you cold or tired? What can I do for you?” I wondered what they thought of us when we rode on the back of the truck with them, if they thought we were just working on the farm for something to do or to look good. I wanted them to know that I realized how hard this work was and how hard and tiring it must be for them when they still have to go home at the end of the day and be a mother.
(See Cassandra’s entire article and photos at http://newcollegefl.tumblr.com)
The Apopka experience was in cooperation with Hope Community Center, which serves the working poor and immigrant communities of central Florida. Among the Sarasota community leaders who participated in the tutorial were Susie Bowie, then vice president for philanthropic education and marketing at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and Maria Mata Ruhl, immigration attorney from Ruhl Law, P.A.