The migrant and seasonal farmworker season is beginning on farms across South Carolina as men, women and sometimes children work from sun-up to sun-down to support the state’s multibillion dollar agribusiness sector and economy. According to research released last year by the Foundation, many farmworkers encounter a broken labor system, engage in dangerous work, experience poverty-level wages, live in substandard housing and their children may have difficulty accessing school.
On Friday, April 24, 2015, the South Carolina Farmworker Institute officially launched its Inaugural Summit and Networking Event with sixty representatives from more than twenty agencies across the state participating. Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, responsible for leading the Foundation’s Immigrant Families Initiative, welcomed participants: “Today, you are a part of history in South Carolina’s farmworker movement – thank you for your passion and tireless efforts to improve the lives of farmworkers and their families.” Advocates shared skills, knowledge and resources through presentations, workshops and networking throughout the day. Summit participants learned about the latest issues affecting SC farmworkers – ranging from the Affordable Care Act, legal updates, migrant education, outreach through theater and English language classes.
The Summit highlighted the journeys of farmworkers served by South Carolina Legal Services who volunteered to share their stories. One farmworker shared about broken promises when coming to the United States by those that recruited him. A second farmworker was not paid fairly, but was unable to return to his home country due to violence there. He voiced heartbreak over his current situation, “I am very close to my son and was not emotionally prepared to be so far away from him. I want to go back to see him, but I also want to stay to work and pray he can join me here one day.” A third farmworker shared about sexual violence and abuse that she endured by a supervisor. All farmworkers wanted to work with dignity so they could provide for the families they deeply love.
Hosted at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, the launch of the South Carolina Farmworker Institute illustrated the power of collaboration to create change. The planning committee consisted of representatives from Student Action with Farmworkers, South Carolina Legal Services, South Carolina Primary Health Care Association – South Carolina Migrant Health Program, South Carolina Department of Education Migrant Education Program and the Foundation.
The work of the SC Farmworkers Institute aligns closely with the values of our Immigrant Families Initiative launched in 2014. This Initiative is dedicated to enhancing individual and family well-being through grant making; forming strategic partnerships to support organizations that lift immigrant families out of poverty; and supporting efforts to build inclusive, welcoming environments for immigrants and their children as they integrate into South Carolina, their new home.
About the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, established in 1996, is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System. The Foundation is committed to addressing the needs of the poor and underserved in all 46 South Carolina counties, and strategically uses resources to reduce poverty through action, advocacy and leadership.