By Elizabeth Gay
MILTON — Dagoberto Cruz would have died of undiagnosed pancreatic cancer in Mexico had he not come to Canada in 2009. The then 35-year-old migrant worker got suddenly ill while working on a Milton farm.
His employers, Lauraine and Bert Andrews, got him to a doctor and gave him “the extra will to live.” On returning to Mexico, Cruz named his baby girl, Laura, after his employer Lauraine Andrews. To this day, Lauraine refers to Laura as her other granddaughter.
This is not the sort of story one sees in city newspapers.Programs like the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) have been receiving more negative press skewing the public’s view. Before passing judgement on the program, one should consider the amount of good it has done over the past 50 years.
FARMS coordinates about 55,000 international labourers for work in Canada for up to eight months each year. Lauraine and Bert Andrews relied on migrant workers at their Milton fruit and vegetable farm for 30 years until the sold the farm in 2016.
“We always felt like the Mexicans –— we had 15 of them — were family,” Lauraine Andrews said. “They often said we treated them like family. They worked so hard for us and we appreciated it. For instance, on late Friday nights before the big market days on Saturday, I always provided their dinner. They loved KFC. I would head off and get four buckets of this KFC in my car. I felt like a trailer park caterer. My car would smell of it for days.”
Whenever the workers had a health problem, Andrews’ family doctor would see them “for as little as an ingrown toe-nail” she said. In 2009, Dagoberto Cruz became ill quite suddenly. The Andrews took him to a walk-in clinic and realized it was more serious then an ingrown toenail. Cruz was transferred to an Oakville Hospital and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Part of his pancreas and stomach were removed. A cousin in Hamilton welcomed Cruz into their home and an aunt nursed him through eight weeks of recovery.
Cruz was covered by OHIP and said he would never have gotten the scans
and surgery in Mexico because he doesn’t have that kind of coverage.
The same week as surgery, his wife, Elia had their third child in Mexico – a girl they named Laura. Cruz’s Ontario disability coverage ended when he went back to Mexico. The Andrews challenged their staff before he left to donate earnings to Cruz’s healthcare and the Andrews double the total donated amount.
“It cost me $4,000 because they (the workers) were so generous,” Lauraine said.
Two years after, Dagoberto returned to work on the Andrews farm and spoke at FARMS’ 40th anniversary celebration in Toronto. Dagoberto expressed his gratitude for the program which allowed him to receive life-saving medical care, support his family and provide his children with a better education. His eldest daughter was able to graduate from law school in Mexico in Mexico.
“He just beamed with pride,” Lauraine said. “The money that he made (in Canada) educated his children back in Mexico. It sounds meager what they make up here but it’s huge. Many of them aren’t able to get work at all. If they made 10 per cent in Mexico of what they made up here (they) would be doing very very well.”
“There are many other good news stories,” Lauraine said. Thanks to the FARMS program, two Mexican women who worked as peach packers in St. Catherine’s raised enough money to build a restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico. The restaurant was family-run and provided income for multiple families.
The Andrews ran into another former worker early in August working at the Milton Farmer’s Market. He told them that his Canadian pay enabled his son to complete medical school in Mexico.
That’s an awful lot of good coming from an “awful” program.