A year and a half ago I found out about the volunteer interpreting program at the Open Door Clinic. It was the first I’d heard about the Open Door, and the opportunity to both use my Spanish and get to know people outside of the college excited me. Little did I know that this foray into volunteer work would open me up to the existence of thousands of uninsured migrant workers in Vermont, most of them from Mexico. These men and women bravely leave their families to come work long hours on dairy farms, often in precarious working conditions. And even though they make huge contributions to the milk industry in Vermont many of us are unaware of their existence. Because of language boundaries and lack of access to transportation they are isolated more often than not.
Talking to the patients of the Open Door, the stark differences between their living conditions and mine at Middlebury quickly pushed me to want to do more. I joined the board of Juntos: Farmworker-Student Solidarity Network in the fall to do outreach and communications. Juntos advocates for migrant farmworker right in the state of Vermont, as well as creating opportunities for the farmworkers to get to know the community and each other. We also run a Compañeros program in which two or three Middlebury students regularly visit a farmworker and help him or her learn English or prepare for the drivers’ license exam. Sometimes it is simply to provide a liaison between the worker and the greater Middlebury community.
Working with Juntos has been one of the most important things I’ve done while at Middlebury. It is a cause that cannot be ignored and is always rewarding, and I would encourage anybody who is interested to get involved. In addition to the Compañeros program, we could always use volunteers to join our working group meetings on Wednesday nights in Carr Hall. There is always something important to work on. We also hold regular events, such as soccer games and screenings, to get to know the farmworkers.
-Joelle Mendoza-Etchart ‘15
Learn more about Juntos here or email us at Juntos@middlebury.edu!