It’s no exaggeration that this past season has been fraught with unforeseen challenges for everyone. There were also many times this past summer when a bright sunbeam would slip through a fissure in the dark clouds of uncertainty. Meeting Lane Smith was one of them.
Amidst all of the challenges of curtailed summer activities, 11-year-old Lane began thinking of ways to make a difference within her own circle of influence.
She had been reading about the men and women working on southern Ontario farms. After learning that they were far away from their own families for up to eight months of the year, Lane thought of her own close-knit family and couldn’t imagine the hardships and loneliness that such separation would bring.
She also has a passion for reading, and wondered if the love of books might be a way to connect with children of the men employed on our farms.
Lane enlisted the help of her mother, and together they began searching for a way to make a connection with farm workers, driving down from Oakville in August to meet with me and work out a plan.
It was a simple idea – she would reach out to 20 school-age friends who would give an age-appropriate brand new book to a Caribbean or Mexican farm worker with a child the same age. It would be a paperback book, something that would slip easily into a suitcase. A name and email address would be included to encourage further correspondence, and hopefully, a “pen pal” friendship.
I knew a number of children in Jamaica who would be interested, and assisted in making the connection with their fathers in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Introductions were made to Nate Dirks, who organizes the Caribbean Worker outreach at Southridge Church. He was enthusiastic after hearing about the project, and promptly set up a number of participants on Vineland farms. Migrants Matter outreach in Flamborough connected them with children from Mexico.
Lane recently shared her experience of the past few months.
‘The farm workers I met were hard-working, and very knowledgeable about how to grow things in Ontario’s climate. Other workers we saw were very happy when we said hello, or tried out our limited Spanish with them,” says Lane.
“Most of my friends who became Paperback Pals didn’t know much about migrant workers or how essential they are, so that we can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. My friends learned that they have to leave their children behind, and that some have been coming here as many as 32 years, spending more time in Canada than in their home country!”
When asked if other children can join Paperback Pals, Lane replied, “Yes! We would love more Ontario kids to sign up so we can send more books. The best way to start is by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send me your name and age and I can match you with another child similar to your age. Right now we are signing children up to be Paperback Pals in 2021, and we would love to hear from you.”