Celebrating migrant workers in Leamington, ON
On Sunday, September 12, the KAIROS Canada Migrant Justice team traveled to Leamington, Ontario to celebrate Grito de Dolores, or Mexico’s Independence Day. Hosted by the Migrant Worker Community Program, the event was an opportunity for migrant workers from the farms around Leamington to enjoy the summer evening, relax, listen to music, and, for Mexican workers, celebrate their heritage.
Migrant workers are a vital part of the Leamington community. Driving through the town, the team saw workers on every corner, biking down every street, getting groceries, banking, or spending an afternoon at the beach. The town felt alive with workers.
MWCP’s event was an opportunity for the town to show appreciation for all the workers do. For every massive field of crops and huge greenhouse in the area, there are many workers who make the growing and harvesting of crops possible. They are doing critical, but often invisible, work. Martin and the MWCP team – through the event programming – wanted the workers to know that they are a valued part of the community. It was gratifying to be able to publicly recognize this work for the thousand workers, supporters, and allies who gathered to partake in the event. Through it, KAIROS was able to connect and provide resources to more than 250 migrant workers.
During our time in Leamington, KAIROS also had an impromptu meeting with the Philippine Consul General Orontes V. Castro. By chance, he was in Leamington for a dual citizenship ceremony. We were able to discuss the issue of accreditation of training and education of temporary foreign workers, especially in the healthcare field, and how to best support care workers coming to Canada at this difficult time. It was a fruitful discussion about how best KAIROS and the Philippine Consulate can support workers, and the potential for collaboration.
On a personal note, I worked with KAIROS Canada on the Empowering Temporary Foreign Workers Project from January to April. During this time, I fostered a passion for migrant justice and did what I could to support the workers through the project. Due to the lockdowns across Ontario, I did this work remotely. There was value in my contributions from home; I take pride in having run webinars where space was held for migrant workers to speak to the issues they face on the farms.
Having now had the opportunity to engage directly with workers (while masking and respecting social distancing), my passion for migrant justice and my drive to amplify the voices of workers is much stronger. This shift came from realizing the scope of the issue of migrant justice: if there were almost 1000 workers at this event in one small community, they clearly are the backbone of the agricultural industry.
Our team handed out PPE, personal care items, and snacks as a small offering of thanks. Many of the workers we engaged with thanked us for simply recognizing and acknowledging them and their work in a difficult, complicated year. I am grateful to the Migrant Worker Community Program for including the KAIROS team in their celebration and for the opportunity to connect with the workers. As the second year of harvesting in unprecedented times continues, I hope for more opportunities to give back in some small way to those who give us so much.
David Ivany, Communications, Media, and Website Associate, Migrant Justice Program