April 3, 2012

Werth ’13 Presents Goals at Conference

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Alexis Werth ’13 was one of 15 Cornellians who presented a plan to address a particular challenge at the Clinton Global Initiative University from Friday to Sunday at George Washington University.

Founded by former President Bill Clinton, the CGIU is a “university version” of the original Clinton Global Initiative, an annual conference in which world leaders come together to discuss solutions to global problems, Werth said. During the CGIU, “students, national youth organizations, topic experts and celebrities discuss solutions to pressing global issues,” according to its website.

Werth’s described her pledge to connect the Cornell Farmworker Program — for which Werth interned last summer — with other organizations in order to unionize farm workers in New York State and to achieve the program’s agenda of passing legislation to improve conditions for farm workers, she said.

The CFP aims to address “the needs of farm workers and their families through research, education and extension,” said Mary Jo Dudley ’90, director of the CFP.According to Dudley, student interns with the CFP, including Werth, conduct research through interviews with farm workers about where they are from, how they like their jobs and their visions for the future. The program uses the research to develop educational workshops for farm workers.

Marisa Smith ’13, president of the Immigrant Farmworker Initiative — a student service group connected with the CFP — also interned with the CFP last summer. Smith said that CFP interns conduct research in many areas, such as fair trade, that affect farm workers.

During the school year, volunteers for the initiative visit farms around Ithaca to tutor farm workers learning English. Werth, who volunteers for the initiative, said she helps the workers learn grammar, vocabulary and even banking.

Smith said that although the volunteers want to help teach English, the main focus of the initiative is to help people who are isolated. According to Werth, many farm workers never leave their farms for fear of deportation, as immigration authorities have been known to show up even at church services.

Werth said that this isolation contributes to widespread depression among the farm worker population.

Smith said that she has been tutoring the same child since freshman year. She said he eventually told her about his past: His father was deported when he was 15, and now he and his brother are working alone in the U.S.

She added that the program gave her an appreciation for the struggles of people outside the Cornell community.

“Even if it’s just two hours a week, [it] makes you realize how much of a bubble [Cornell] is,” Smith said. “Prelims don’t seem as important.”

More than 800 people from 80 countries and 300 universities attended this year’s CGIU, according to Werth. Speakers at the conference included Clinton, comedian Jon Stewart and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Werth and the other Cornell students attended workshops on how to become more effective leaders and how to move the goals of their organizations forward. They also heard speeches from world and business leaders, as well as a performance by Usher, Werth said.

Werth said the issue of conditions for immigrant farm workers “is not a federal issue, but a state-by-state issue.” She added that depending on state immigration laws and how they are enforced, trying to make national alliances between local organizations can prove difficult. She said that it was difficult to find other groups with whom to connect because the CFP is a unique entity and was the only group at the CGIU conference that represented farm workers.

However, Werth said she learned to connect with other groups — such as those representing sustainability issues, general farming issues and other immigration issues — over common concerns.

Werth said that the conference left an impression on her.

“Your soul just feels better after this conference,” she said.

Original Author: Wesley Rogers