Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Future Medical Professionals
 Learn Lake Apopka History

         Many young people go into medicine with altruistic intentions, built on empathy for others and a desire to help people. The medical profession however, sometimes fails to help people who desperately need medical care. Farmworkers are an example of this failure, as so many doctors are not trained in occupational health and cannot correctly diagnose or treat farmworkers. With awareness of this issue, we are so happy to partner with Central Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in their summer program that reaches across 9 counties and brings together high school students who are interested in the medical professions for a camp at UCF.

           The students have a chance to attend workshops, learn more about the medical field, and meet other students who share their interests. Jeannie Economos, Health and Safety Coordinator, Becky Wilson, AmeriCorps volunteer, and Dale Slongwhite, author of “Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food” were invited to present information about farmworkers to the group.  Before we met with the group of 20 students, they had a workshop on domestic or intimate partner violence. The camp focuses not only on the hard science of medicine but on the interwoven social issues medical professionals need to be aware of. We were so happy to bring awareness about farmworkers’ conditions to future medical professionals.

      To help students understand the realities farmworkers face, we chose to focus on the story of Lake Apopka. All the students live in surrounding Central Florida counties and are in proximity to the Lake which boasts two EPA recognized Superfund sites, the highest class of contamination. The students watched Geraldean Matthew, former Lake Apopka Muck Farmworker and community leader, discuss the harms to her health, family, community, and environment on film, because she is currently in the hospital. We know that if she was healthy enough she would be speaking to students herself, but her words carry power in person, and recorded. One student asked in awe “you know her?” referring to Geraldean.  Jeannie responded that she had known her for 20 years, and a wave of understanding spread across the student’s face as she saw that farmworkers were regular people, with friends who cared about them. It is much harder to dismiss someone when they are only one person removed from you.

            The students then broke up into four groups, each given a scenario centered on Lake Apopka. Questions like what their lives would look like without farmworkers, how many hands touch the food they eat before it gets to them, and others encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of farmworkers and understand their ties and ultimately what they owe to farmworkers. While only two hours of their time, this knowledge is something they will hopefully carry forward in their future careers, and change the medical field for the better.

Volunteers plant 1,000 trees along Lake Apopka

Cherry Lake Tree Farm joined a cooperative effort with St. Johns River Water Management District, and Keep Lake Apopka Beautiful to plant 1, 000 two-year old Bald Cypress trees on the North Shore of Lake Apopka. Sixty volunteers in four teamsworked at three sites spanning two counties. Cherry Lake Tree Farm provided the trees.  Bald Cypress is considered a keystone species in regional wetland ecosystems, providing valuable habitat, particularly for birds. Until Saturday, Bald Cypress trees were notably absent from the Lake Apopka Restoration Area. The toxic history of Lake Apopka cannot be undone, but efforts like this to improve the ecosystem are so necessary.

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