Tzu Chi’s Modesto Medical Outreach Helps Migrant Farmers Who Lack Insurance

Modesto, Calif., is a small town and home to families who prefer the quiet life as opposed to the big bustling city. It is also home to many migrant workers. In Stanislaus County there are more than 18 million almond trees in over 1,600 orchards. Those orchards are tended to by hardworking farmers who ensure the almonds grow every year from the mid-August to October harvest.

This work along with other agricultural work, from walnuts to chestnuts and dairy, is seasonal, which means that the workers are searching for ways to make money at other times of the year. And with seasonal work there are no benefits, leaving many workers to fend for themselves when it comes to healthcare, some not receiving any medical or dental care at all.

Many of those who work in agriculture are monolingual Latinos who come to Modesto for the work and opportunity. They seek help from Tzu Chi mainly for medical reasons. If they are not healthy, then they are unable to work, according to Zita Yi, outreach coordinator of Tzu Chi Modesto Service Center. Some have never seen a doctor in their entire life.

Tzu Chi’s Medical Service Center in Modesto came in 2002 one year after the center in Fresno, Calif., with volunteers starting to build outreach working with the city and with El Concilio, a nonprofit organization mainly serving the Hispanic community, according to Daniel Yi, Director of Tzu Chi Modesto Service Center.

One of the things that we’re really proud of is working with the Tzu Chi Foundation to bring back hope to this community. And we’ve been doing this for seven years already.

Outreach to the community every year is held at Hanshaw Middle School. Tzu Chi volunteers take care of all the registration needs for medical, acupuncture and dental before the event so that it can run smoothly. It also shows the camaraderie between Modesto’s and Fresno’s clinics since Fresno provides the equipment by way of its mobile unit. Outreach brings together all volunteers and they work as a team.

To be able to show compassion is also important, which is why the set-up is key to the outcome of the outreach.

Because we want them to come and feel welcomed. I really have that faith in the Tzu Chi Foundation that when the patients come, that they’ll be treated with respect no matter what their income is, or what their nationality is, or anything- they’ll be treated with respect.

By providing medical, dental and acupuncture services to the community, Tzu Chi volunteers also provide hope through resources that will make families healthier and stronger. Without the services, many of these workers would not be able to purchase health insurance at all because they are undocumented while the cost would be out of their reach. Almost 80 percent are not American born.

The conditions under which they work are also problematic. There are many challenges and dangers due to the dust that rises when it is harvested. Workers breathe it in and it adversely affects them as does the chemicals sprayed on trees and in the soil.

For farm workers such as Jorge Ramos, the manual labor is hard, taking an extreme toll on his body. Ramos is an illegal alien and has been to 27 jails because he lacks papers.

I don’t remember being a kid or playing games or anything like that. You know, I became from a child to a man. Over at the border before I came here, there were days that I didn’t eat. I ate from the garbage cans. I’ve done what I had to do just to come here.

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It is people such as Jorge who come as early as 4 a.m. to wait on line for the day of the medical outreach because it is first come, first serve. Yi expresses her concerns that they often have to turn away people, which is disheartening.

Many of the workers come to take advantage of services they need and either never had or have infrequently.

For seven years, El Concilio and Tzu Chi volunteers have been back to the same school as the need is great. The plan is to have everyone pre-registered in order to gather their most important information.

And we’ve been doing this for seven years already, and we’ve always came back to this school because we feel that we’re really making a difference out in this area. Every year, the need has gone up and somehow the clinic has found a way to meet those needs.

For dental, as many as 10 volunteer hygienists will offer their services in addition to 12 dental assisting students. There are also 20 to 25 medical assisting students helping patients throughout the outreach that helps roughly 600 people in six hours.

When it comes to health, it’s universal. Everyone deserves to receive the healthcare they need, and so the Tzu Chi Foundation, they’re doing just that.