Who We Are
We are a group of community minded volunteers interested in creating a safe, healthy and inclusive environment for all migrant workers, especially the agricultural workers who come to the South Okanagan area of British Columbia for seasonal work.
Around 2004 a need for foreign migrant workers was recognized in the South Okanagan Valley. Historically locals and migrant workers from Quebec had filled the fruit and vegetable picking and processing positions but now the need for workers was far greater than the number of workers available.
While SAWP (Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program) had existed in Ontario and other areas of Eastern Canada for some 30 years it was new to British Columbia. The SAWP allowed migrant workers from other countries to enter Canada for the purpose of filling jobs in the agricultural industry. These jobs, typically low paying and demanding, were difficult to fill with resident Canadians.
Foreign workers, primarily Spanish speaking, travelled here from Mexico, Central and South America and Jamaica to work on the farms and in the processing plants. The farmers and processors were delighted to have access to a large group of hard-working individuals but… the language and cultural barriers resulted in difficulties for both the workers and the employers.
Several local individuals recognized that these workers faced many challenges including: the inability to communicate effectively with their employers, difficulties in dealing with government agencies, banks, phone and internet providers, in some cases sub-standard housing and working conditions, and difficulties with transportation from remote farm locations. Volunteers assisted by providing translation services, offering opportunities to learn English, providing transportation and helping with the various accounts, forms and paperwork needed to work and live in Canada. These volunteers also became powerful advocates helping the workers with legal issues pertaining to their stay in Canada and issues arising from their working conditions.
Over the years various groups have assisted the workers but as more farmers entered into the SAWP and more workers arrived in the Valley it became apparent that there was a need for a more organized form of assistance that would be recognized by the Government and other organizations. A core group of dedicated volunteers came together and on Nov 5, 2014 the El Faro Service Society for Migrant Workers was incorporated under the Society Act of BC.