A paper cut-out heart tacked to Colleen Shoqist’s fridge door is a constant reminder of her experiences doing outreach in migrant worker camps this summer.
“It’s very heart wrenching,” said Shoquist about the condition of the camps.
Shoquist and other members of the Woodgrove Christian Community Church, based out of the Heritage Church building in Lantzville, visited the camps from July 30 to Aug. 4, to lead a Vacation Bible School, which includes arts and crafts, singing and games, and they bring toys, clothes and other items for the children.
Five Woodgrove members were joined by five members of a Seattle-based church on the project.
They visited two migrant camps in the Mount Vernon area of Washington, which different church individuals have been visiting since about 2005.
It’s the second year Shoquist has made the journey. A decision she made because of her motivation to help and give the children the message that God loves them.
At the Washington migrant camps the adults work in the fields picking produce during the days. They often lock their doors to keep belongings safe and children end up with no indoor space to stay in, said Steve Wilkinson, pastor of Woodgrove church. The older teens are often in charge of the care of younger children.
“That is so sad to see young children looking after young children,” said Shoquist.
The camps the Woodgrove members visit consist of workers primarily from Mexico’s Oaxaca region. The adults often only speak their native language of Mixteca, but the children are usually multilingual and speak Mixteca, Spanish and English, said Wilkinson.
He said migrants often follow the cycle of crop growing and continually move from Arizona to California to Washington. During the school year some children are able to attend classes.
Wilkinson said sometimes people question why the church works in the Washington camps and not with B.C. camps. He said the church has an established relationship of trust with the people in the Washington camps because they have done outreach work in them since about 2005.
If the opportunity arose the group would consider doing work in B.C. camps. The migrant worker’s well-being is also an issue Canadians should consider, he added, because of the amount of fruit and vegetables imported from the U.S. that Canadians consume.
“The fruits and vegetables imported from the states, it’s being picked by these people. It’s being built on the backs of these people,” he said.
Suzanne Wilkinson, who also went with the church group, said she tries to prepare herself mentally for the poverty she encounters in the camps each time but it’s never successful.
“It affects me every single time – you don’t grow accustomed to it,” she said. “They live in really, really dreary little rooms.”
Some of the camps they visit, Suzanne describes as the rough camps, have a reputation for crime and sometimes people openly carry knives in the housing area.
“The other camp just breaks my heart. I cannot fathom how people live in such conditions,” said Suzanne.
There is one family the Wilkinsons have established a close relationship with over their years.
Marcelina, one of the teens, is going to be the first person in her family to graduate high school and wants to attend college. The family is currently trying to figure out how to apply for Marcelina’s citizenship under the Dream Act.
The church does outreach projects in the United States and Mexico and anyone can join the members during their work. People interested in participating in the projects can contact Woodgrove Church at 250-390-3679.
For more information and to watch a video of the church member’s work in the migrant camps please go to www.woodgrovechurch.ca.