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Guatemalan Maya Center works to reach farm workers to vaccinate for COVID-19

'We have to make sure that we are able to reach the people'
Posted at 3:14 PM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 15:16:41-04

LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — There's an intricate effort to vaccinate farm and landscaping workers for COVID-19. The Guatemalan Maya Center is working hard to reach a segment of the population that may have difficulties with access to health care.

The team at the Guatemalan Maya Center printed fliers and packed up. Myra Domingo, an outreach worker, led the group in search of seasonal farm workers.

"It's starting to pick up the season again. That's why we are going to go look for them again," she said on the drive there. "Right now, we're heading to one of the points where all of our farm workers cash their check every Friday."

The boots-on-the-ground approach is part of an educational and access to health care campaign. The team speaks the many different dialects.

"We tend to find a lot of clients that don't speak Spanish, and we have different dialects ... so we go approach them and talk to them and they feel comfortable talk to us," Domingo said.

Mariana Blanco, the assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center, said the main focus is getting farm workers vaccinated for COVID-19.

"The people sometimes can't reach us, so we have to make sure that we are able to reach the people," she said. "Meeting the people right after work and asking them, 'Are you vaccinated? And if not, look at all the people you are traveling with. You are now going home and putting your family at risk.'"

The team arrived at the cash checking site with what they called "farm worker kits." It includes masks, snacks, drinks and hand sanitizer.

"When you bring gifts, people listen," Blanco said.

The ultimate goal is to get them back to the vaccination clinic happening at their facility on Friday evenings.

It's not an easy task.

Mariana Blanco, the assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center, talks about sending message to farm workers about COVID-19 vaccine
Mariana Blanco, the assistant executive director of the Guatemalan Maya Center, says there is no agenda when it comes to trying to spread the message to farm workers about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's been difficult for us to get them to where they feel comfortable about the vaccine," Blanco said. "It's just, unfortunately, misinformation. From either their pastors or from just members of the community. Women certainly feel that they are going to become infertile if they take the vaccine. … I know that, for sure, in the Hispanic community, that is a big myth."

She said it's important to reach people physically and emotionally.

"It's also a matter of meeting the person where they're at, so if they have questions, answering their concerns because they are valid," Blanco said. "Bringing medical professionals. Some of our people have never even seen a general doctor's visit."

The techniques are not all old school. They’re tackling misinformation spread in group text chains.

"A text message or What's App message can reach 400 people in a minute," she said.

They counter those messages with myths with technology of their own.

"We blast it to everybody," Blanco said. "We found that chain text messages were targeting people in a way that we didn't anticipate."

The group is also battling barriers.

"A lot of our people might not be literate, and so having people that can fill out the forms for them and can assist them," she said.

They're building on already established trust with the population they serve.

"Trust is a big one," Blanco said. "It takes years to build trust and seconds to lose it, and we've been pretty stable and the community recognizes us for that. … No ID's required if they don't have one. If they need a translator, we can provide that for them. Absolutely nothing is required. They're in a safe space and we are going to make sure all they do is get their vaccines."

Domingo said the outreach efforts make a difference.

"They get excited," she said. "They see that someone cares about them."

Blanco said it's all about protection for those they said are hardest to reach.

"They see us as an agency that's really advocating for them," she said. "There's no immigration agenda behind it. There's no political agenda. We just want to make sure people are protected."