The community-led nonprofit Mano en Mano is providing educational services and other resources to migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MFSWs) in the coastal town of Milbridge, ME. Through this work, they hope to address organizational and systemic oppression that impacts the livelihoods of MFSWs in the state.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2017 census, 13 percent of all paid agricultural workers hired in Maine are migrant workers. Since the late 1990s, the blueberry industry has drawn migrant workers representing nationalities from Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, and Puerto Rico, and the Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy nations.
Because of their highly mobile and sometimes undocumented status, MSFWs face numerous and consistent challenges, including “language barriers, education and job skills training, housing, reliable transportation, food and nutrition, childcare, and school alternatives for the children during the harvest,” Jorge Acero, Monitor Advocate for Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers at Maine Department of Labor tells Food Tank.
Many of these challenges “revolve around institutional racism, language injustice, and bias against migrant students and families,” Leslie Monroy, Migrant Education Program Director at Mano en Mano tells Food Tank.
To address these challenges and meet the needs of Maine’s MSFW community, Mano en Mano provides access to, and helps advocate for resources and support throughout the state. They also work with the Maine Migrant Education Program (MEP) to develop opportunities for migrant workers and their families, including the Blueberry Harvest School. The school is run through the Maine Department of Education (DOE) and helps to ensure that youth have access to education during the summer months when their families are migrating for work.
“Across all of Mano en Mano’s programs we work to celebrate identity and culture so that we can more effectively and holistically serve our communities,” Monroy tells Food Tank.
“We do this by preparing learning kits filled with culturally relevant literature (books written by Latinx, Haitian, Indigenous writers), providing language interpretation services at community events and meetings, and hiring staff from the community to run programming,” she says. As much as possible, Mano en Mano also prioritizes hiring teachers from diverse backgrounds who represent the communities they work with.
Throughout the year and across the state, Mano en Mano works with their state’s DOE to connect migrating students who qualify for the MEP to a regional coordinator. The coordinator then helps ensure the students’ basic needs are being met and that they have access to academic support, counseling, advocacy, tutoring, and enrichment activities.
“The most important components of our educational programming and the learning environment we create at the Blueberry Harvest School are the relationships we build with students and families,” Monroy tells Food Tank. The school collaborates with students and families to plan programming, incorporate feedback on events, and ensure that appropriate services and resources are being provided and meeting the needs of the community.
According to Monroy, “one thing other migrant education programs could learn from the Blueberry Harvest School is the importance of listening to, and guiding services by the voice of our community and students.”
Mano en Mano also collaborates with other Maine-based, community-led organizations such as Presente! Maine and Maine Mobile Health “to ensure that our work is both informed by community needs, follows their vision, and is representative of the services and supports folks want to see,” Monroy says.
Through these partnerships, Mano en Mano says it is committed to holistically addressing the food and health equity needs of the community they serve. “We work with individuals and families that arrived to Maine as recently as a few days ago; those who are second and now the third generations of the wave of immigrants who exited the “migrant stream” to reside permanently in the Downeast over 15 years ago; and Indigenous peoples that were here since before colonization,” Monroy tells Food Tank.
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Photo courtesy of Mano en Mano