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CDC Volunteers Help Farmworkers

Published: August 14, 2009

Ana Alfaro-Correa
Ana Alfaro-Correa, center, has volunteered nearly each summer in the last decade as an interpreter for the Emory University farmworker assistance program.

For almost 10 years in a row, Ana Alfaro-Correa has spent her summer vacation in the hot, gnatty, mosquito-prone fields of south Georgia helping migrant farmworkers receive high-quality health care.

Alfaro-Correa, a public health analyst in the Division of Diabetes Translation, is among several CDC employees who volunteer with the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project as Spanish and Haitian-Creole interpreters. They join a team of Emory University Physician Assistant Program students, medical students, PA and medical faculty members and other volunteers to provide free basic health care to 1,400 to 1,600 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in migrant camps, packing sheds and other nontraditional clinical settings.

Collaboration with Emory University

The project is a collaborative effort of the Emory University Physician Assistant Program, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Southwest Georgia Area Health Education Center and community partners in Valdosta and Bainbridge. The team sees farmworkers from countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti and Jamaica.

"We get a fair number of workers who say they have never seen a healthcare provider, or it's been years," reports Tom Himelick, director of community projects for Emory's Physician Assistant Program. The team diagnoses and treats everything from hypertension to headaches, diabetes to respiratory infections, and athlete's foot to eye problems.

Tom Himelick, Susy Mercado, Rebeca Lee-Pethel, Raquel Sabogal, and Tiffanee Woodard
Tom Himelick, Susy Mercado, Rebeca Lee-Pethel, Raquel Sabogal, and Tiffanee Woodard devote time to the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project.

He says most ailments are minor, but sometimes the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project can save lives. As an example, a student recognized that a young farmworker was having a heart attack and convinced him to go to the hospital, where the event was confirmed.

Interpreter brings health messages

CDC public health analyst Rebeca Lee-Pethel of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, who has volunteered as an interpreter with the project for 10 years, observes, "We have the opportunity to help folks who often have limited or no other access to health care. This is a good place to provide public health messages.

"These folks live with such hardship that it seems so little to give time to help."

David Ojeda, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellow in the Division of Diabetes Translation, agrees. His first summer as a volunteer Spanish interpreter in Valdosta was eye-opening because of the working and living conditions he observed. The experience in June strengthened his desire to help underserved populations, especially in rural areas.

The chance to help improve the lives of individuals also appealed to interpreter Tiffanee Woodard, public health analyst in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. "Furthermore, each act of service will result in some degree of benefit to the entire community," the CDC volunteer notes. "The South Georgia Farmworker Health Project supports communities in need, provides a model for collaboration, and enhances personal and professional interests. This project will present lifelong rewards to all involved."

Volunteers reap rewards

Susy Mercado, Gena Gause, and farmworkers
Susy Mercado (left) and Gena Gause, (right) second-year Emory physician assistant student, work with farmworkers.

For Raquel Sabogal, an epidemiologist in the Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services and the daughter of two Colombian natives, the rewards include keeping up her Spanish skills while helping farm workers live healthier lives. A South Georgia Farmworker Health Project volunteer since 2000, she has improved her Spanish medical terminology to help the Emory students conduct health exams.

As an incentive to undergo basic medical exams, the migrant workers are offered used clothing. Susy Mercado, audiovisual production specialist in the Division of Creative Services, collected clothing donations from her CDC colleagues this year to take to farmworkers in South Georgia when she interprets for them in Spanish. Mercado, whose mother is Cuban, spent part of her childhood in Peru and is active in the Atlanta Latino community. "I enjoy helping the Latin community. I like helping people find solutions to their problems," she says.

For more information about the South Georgia Farmworker Health Project.

Other Volunteer Opportunities: United We Serve

President Obama has announced the United We Serve initiative, encouraging Americans to create meaningful change in their communities by participating in service projects throughout the summer. The President is calling on Americans to recruit and organize their friends, family, and neighbors to develop their own service projects in partnership with local organizations. The United We Serve initiative will run through the new National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11.

For more information about United We Serve.

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