by Gillian Doucet Campbell and Antonio Illas
A Mexican farmworker riding a bike was the spark that ignited Rev. Javier Arias’ heart, and St. Albans (Beamsville), to start the Migrant Farm Workers Project. One hot afternoon in the summer of 2013 Rev. Javier, saw a migrant worker riding his bike. He followed him to his residence, where 24 migrant workers. A pastoral relationship developed, and the Migrant Farmworkers Project had begun.
Since then, the Migrant Farmworker Project has been collecting donated bicycles through the Bikes for Farmworkers program. Bikes are refurbished and provided to the migrant farmworkers for a nominal price of $20.00.
This is one of the many programs of the Migrant Farmworker Project. Bikes are the primary mode of transportation for the farmworkers. “It’s the reason you see dozens of seasonal workers riding their bikes in the rural areas and shopping centers of the Niagara Region,” shares Rev. Antonio Illas, Migrant Farmworker Missioner with the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. He explains that the, “migrant workers depend on and need the bikes. Not having a bike would mean walking several kilometers on mostly unlit rural roads to get to the bank or to shop. This would mean extra hours of their precious down time, as they work an average of 10 to 12 hours daily in the farmlands, vineyards and greenhouses in the peninsula. The bikes are not a luxury but a needed vehicle”.
The Bikes for Farmworkers program at St. Alban’s, is attended by José Luis, a migrant farmworker who volunteers as the bike mechanic. José Luis was trained in bike repair here in Canada. He now gives back to the program by donating his time. José Luis is grateful for the skill he learned in Canada and uses it when he returns to his village in Mexico, running a bike program for children in his neighborhood. He has been empowered with a new skill.
This ministry has also been an inspiration to other local community members in initiating a bike service program for migrant workers in their area. One of the most successful programs is in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Mark Gaudet and Terry Weiner began by selling 40 bicycles in 2016. This year they sold 550 bikes and repaired 345 others – that’s 895 bikes! In three years they have sold and repaired approximately 2,135 bikes – and more are always needed.
Bikes for Migrant Farmworkers is a success because of the commitment of volunteers. Community members continue to donate bikes for the program year after year, and many make a financial donation.
For more information or to donate to the Anglican Diocese of Niagara’s Migrant Farmworker Project, and specifically the Bikes for Farmworkers, please contact Rev. Antonio Illas, Migrant Farmworker Missioner below or visit www.migrantfarmworkers.ca.