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Why I’m on Mission to Protect Farm Workers

By Faith Florez on April 4, 2018
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[Faith Florez is a 17-year-old high school student and subject of our latest Sea of Change episode. She’s the founder of Calor, a new life-saving smartwatch app for farm workers. We asked her to write about her personal motivations behind her invention, and the challenges ahead.]

My great-grandmother, Estella Florez, spent twenty years picking crops in the fields of California’s Central Valley. She worked through the long hours, brutal conditions, and meager pay. Nevertheless, she was dedicated to this work because she knew it would provide opportunity—not only for her, but for her family. She loved us more than anything.

With the Dodgers game on the television and the daily newspaper in hand, she would sip her black coffee slowly and talk about the prestigious universities she’d send her grandkids to. So, for us, she continued to put herself through the arduous field work—until she passed away from heat exhaustion.

My great-grandmother gifted me the American Dream, and instead of keeping that privilege to myself, I aspire to use it to serve my community.

This is what motivated me to create Calor—a smart watch application designed to protect the rights and safety of farm workers. Inspired by the Amber Alerts, it sends triggered alerts, hosts educational content, and functions as an emergency hotline.

Two years ago, during my sophomore year of high school, I successfully pitched the idea to a group of graduate computer science students at the University of Southern California. Since then, my vision has become a reality, and we have continued to refine the application with mentors at the HERLead leadership forum in New York City.

Now that it’s real, I can’t help but imagine its capabilities and impact. My ultimate goal is to reduce the rate of heat stroke amongst farm workers—people like my great-grandmother. This will become possible if we can get Calor to be used on as many farms as possible. Needless to say, there are cost barriers in implementing it on that scale. But I’m determined to overcome them with lots of hard work and dedication.

With the health data gathered from the watch, we can help set more detailed standards for procedures relating to heat, shade, rest, and water. In doing so, we can set a uniform code of conduct for farms across the nation. It is essential to find ways to protect vulnerable workers from the dangerous business practices that are far too commonplace within the agricultural industry.

Oftentimes, American families sit at the dinner table without thinking about the people who picked their food. Few Americans know about the plight of farm workers who are threatened daily with heatstroke and heat illness. That is why I pursue this project. If I don’t, who will? As a young woman from a lineage of immigrant farm workers, it is my responsibility to share the stories only our families can tell.

I carry the name Florez with a sense of pride, but I am also reminded of its obligations. I know that this is what my great-grandmother would want me to do. So this is what I’ll do—with the same passion, intensity and determination that she had.

 

 

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