Project empowers farmworkers to make health decisions

Nine children from seasonal or migrant farmworker families have improved their health literacy skills through a collaborative project at East Carolina University.

Dr. Joseph Lee, assistant professor of health education and promotion in the College of Health and Human Performance, and Leah Cordova, teaching assistant professor in Joyner Library, hosted the training with middle and high school students in October.

Dr. Joseph Lee, assistant professor of health education and promotion, talks with students about finding reliable health information.

“One part of health literacy is for an individual to be able to obtain basic health information,” Cordova said. “Through this effort, we were able to connect farmworkers and their families with high quality health information provided by the National Library of Medicine, empowering them to make decisions regarding their own health.”

The project was supported by a $15,000 National Network of Libraries of Medicine Health Information Outreach grant, which also funded training for health outreach workers across the state.

“Farmworkers and their families are a critical part of eastern North Carolina’s economy and future, and this effort by ECU’s Joyner Library and College of Health and Human Performance connects them with the wealth of consumer health information from the National Library of Medicine.”

The youth – mainly from Johnston and surrounding counties – are part of the Levante Leadership Institute college pipeline program through the nonprofit Student Action with Farmworkers.

Cordova instructed the students on how to avoid fake health news and find reliable information at MedlinePlus, a government website that provides health information in multiple languages.

Students were provided iPads and wireless connectivity for the training, and used the iPads to create news stories about their own lives while exploring media coverage of farmworkers. They also toured ECU for an introduction to college life. “We’re hoping they’ll apply to ECU,” Lee said.

Israel Mendez, an ECU senior in public health studies, has been interviewing the students as well as adult outreach workers to assess resources and identify gaps.

“While issues like substandard housing and low pay continue to be a challenge in improving the health of people who harvest food, farmworkers and their families are also sometimes disconnected from quality information about health,” Lee said. “By connecting youth with high quality information and helping them identify high quality health information, we help make eastern North Carolina healthier and stronger.”

MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health’s website produced by the National Library of Medicine with information on diseases, conditions and wellness issues. For more information, go to

Students participate in a health literacy training class at ECU.