The Road to Immokalee: One Woman’s Journey
Today we bring you Part 3 in our blog series “The Road to Immokalee”. Part 1 related the creation of the WOV Southwest FL chapter and Part 2 told of their relationship with the girls from Immokalee. In early June nine women traveled to Immokalee for the first US Programs Vision Trip to that region. They toured the community, met with a tomato farmer, teachers and women who work the fields. They visited a packing house to see how the vegetables and fruit are shipped to grocery stores and restaurants all over the United States. But their most precious time was spent listening to women tell their stories of suffering, perseverance and triumph. Here is one of those stories…
by Beth Yeager, WOV Chapter Advisor
Mary Villa is a woman with a hard past and a soft smile. Nine women from Women of Vision and World Vision traveled to the migrant farmworker community of Immokalee, FL to learn more about the families who harvest the fruits and vegetables we find in our grocery stores and restaurants. We cannot look at a produce aisle now and not remember the worn faces and hands of the men and women who endure the heat, the physical labor and long hours in the fields. From the comfort of your computer reading this it would be hard to imagine how these families survive.
Mary is a woman whose story reflects so many others but with one exception. Her story is one of transformation.
She grew up in a large migrant family who worked throughout the south and all the way up to Michigan picking everything from cotton, tomatoes and peppers to apples and blueberries. Mary knew her father didn’t want daughters except as another hand to bring in income to the family. So, she started working the fields at the age of 9 – without being paid, picking and carrying buckets of tomatoes. Each bucket weighs about 32 pounds so at the end of the day Mary could have lifted over 500 pounds!
Mary missed a lot of school and when she could attend was forced to work in the fields after classes. But she was smart and somehow was able to graduate from high school. Like other girls her age, she got married right after school and began full time work in the fields. In an extraordinary act of grace, Mary’s husband, Aniceto, recognized how smart she was and affirmed her desire to realize an unfinished dream to teach. He encouraged her to go to college so that she could become a teacher.
Mary quit her job in the fields, pregnant with their third child, and began working as a teacher’s aide and tutor. After school she would travel an hour to Ft. Myers to attend class, often finishing her homework late into the night. Aniceto took over the household chores and caring for the children even after long days in the fields. It took Mary 6 years to get her teaching degree and now she teaches third graders from Immokalee at Lake Trafford Elementary School.
Mary teaches students who face similar challenges and want to give up. But she has a unique voice to encourage children stay in school, even if they end up working in the fields. Mary could have taught in any school; if you ask her why she didn’t want to teach in an area with more affluent students and resources, she will answer: “These kids need us. Teachers are for helping students who really need it and to make a difference in their lives.”
Today Mary’s students stop by and thank her for her perseverance and dedication. She thanks God as the source of strength in her life. What a privilege to have spent time with such an extraordinary woman – truly a woman of vision!