Monday, January 13, 2014

Polar vortex, pesticides, red tape can't stop us!

By Neftali & Yesenia Cuello

Yesenia and Neftali braved brutal cold at the Capitol last week to speak out about pesticide safety.

We started working in the fields of eastern North Carolina when Neftali was 12 years old, and Yesenia was 14. We worked in tobacco, blueberries and strawberries every summer for years. We saw pesticides used nearby and were even exposed to the drift, but never knew what pesticides were.

We never heard the word “pesticide” or had a safety training until 4 years later when we joined NC FIELD and our eyes were opened.

All those years we were being exposed to these things on the job, without any knowledge of what they could do to our health. Now we go out into the fields to meet other children who are working there, photograph them and learn about their lives. We meet teenagers, sometimes kids as young as 8 and 9. Not one youth farmworker we’ve met said they’d ever had a pesticide safety training.
NC youth working in sweet potato. Photo by Yesenia Cuello
This is why we have to make our voices heard.

Last week we joined a delegation of farmworkers and youth who traveled to Washington DC. We met with members of Congress and the US EPA to ask them for a strong Worker Protection Standard. People shouldn’t be working with these chemicals without training and safety protections that keep them and their families safe. Kids shouldn’t be working with pesticides at all!

We don’t want unsafe pesticides on our food, and we don’t want other kids to have to work around them or with them like we and our other siblings did. We need a strong Worker Protection Standard that makes the fields and our families safer. If you agree, please make your voice heard, too.

Neftali Cuello serves on Toxic Free NC's Community Leadership Council, and is the Secretary of Poder Juvenil Campesino, the youth group of NC FIELD. Yesenia Cuello is President of PJC and serves on NC FIELD's Board of Directors.

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