“Coming from a financially secure background, it is possible to pretend that social injustice is a phenomenon that only plagues exotic, developing countries,” said Fordham College at Rose Hill senior Thomas Ginch. “In reality, injustice is alive and well in America.”

Ginch was one of seven students who spent his winter break in the Florida Everglades area with the University’s Global Outreach (GO) Program. This year, GO is running 33 service programs around the globe, creating opportunities for students to work side by side with agencies and organizations to learn about issues of poverty and injustice.

Ginch led a team to Immokalee, Florida, a community on the southwest tip of the Everglades, where the issues of immigration reform, farming rights, affordable housing, and food justice are of major importance to the local population.

The group worked with Immokalee Housing and Family Services, power-washing, painting, and repairing two housing units for recently arrived homeless families from Haiti, said Carol Gibney, associate director of campus ministry and the trip’s chaperone. They helped prune planted fields on one of the local farms, where day laborers harvest the area’s tomatoes and peppers. They also met with a lawyer for Catholic Charities to learn about its farming rights work and its work on behalf of area undocumented women and children.

(Photos by Tyler Martins)

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“We heard time and again about those who are being abused but who are too fearful to come forth,” said Gibney.

Ginch, a psychology and history major, said he had done a stint with GO in Detroit during his freshman year; the experience inspired him to study psychology and to get involved in social service. In Immokalee, Ginch said the GO team also learned about ongoing tensions between undocumented workers and management at local farms, where food production and labor issues are at the forefront.

“Immigration reform could transform the community from one that fears authority too much to challenge corporate corruption, to one with enough residency security to defend itself,” he said.

Gibney said that the Global Outreach experience transforms lives.

“The students that go, they are really affected,” she said. “Once you enter into the world of the ‘other’ and talk and meet and hear stories, you are different. You put the face to the name and it is incredible.”

(Patrick Verel and Janet Sassi contributed to this report.)