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Road Trip to Spotlight Superhero Caregivers

  • Katherine J. Igoe

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In a scene from her new film, Marisa Morán Jahn SM ’07 stands in front of a group of caregivers, allies, and friends at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. She has arrived in her 60-year-old station wagon, the colorful CareForce One, after a drive down the East Coast learning from caregivers, care receivers, policy wonks, and historians about the state of caregiving in America.

“One thing we can all agree upon is to celebrate the superhero team behind every individual who needs care,” she says, and the crowd cheers.

The film of Jahn’s experiences, CareForce One Travelogues, is being released as a four-part series on PBS/ITVS Indie Lens Storycast. The tale documents her journey with her pre-school son, Choco, and her friend, Anjum Asharia, as they explore the status of caregivers and their working conditions.

Caregivers who are domestic workers—including nannies, cleaners, housekeepers, and other household workers—are the fastest growing workforce in the U.S, but laws to standardize their rights are still nascent. Almost a quarter of domestic workers are paid below minimum wage. Time off and paid vacation are rare, due to the informal nature of their work. Immigrant caregivers’ visas are often tied to their employers, so abusive working conditions are common. By 2030, the number of caregivers needs to double just to meet the basic needs of the aging population.

“The laws are changing all around the country in different sectors, and it really makes a timely topic to learn about and learn through,” she says.

Jahn is a lecturer at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), where she got her degree. The experimental nature of ACT and strong focus on collaboration make it an ideal community for her to work. “There’s a camaraderie; as faculty, we’re investing in students as peers that are younger than ourselves.”

In 2010, Jahn got involved when the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in her home state of New York. The public art and creative media nonprofit she’d founded, Studio REV-, was asked to help get the word out to the 200,000 caregivers in the state. Jahn worked with advocacy groups and the MIT Center for Civic Media to create the Domestic Worker App. Through the program, anyone with a cell phone could call a number and hear humorous audio novellas about their rights.

Afterwards, in collaboration with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Caring Across Generations, she created the NannyVan and CareForce One as mobile, visual tools to amplify caregivers’ voices. “The kinds of stories we heard were, ‘I’ve worked as a nanny for the past 15 years and I haven’t proudly identified as a domestic worker until I saw your van,’” she says. “We’ve also heard domestic employers identify their roles as well.”

CareForce One Travelogues evolved out of this work. Produced by Studio REV- and Oscar and Emmy-winning filmmaker Yael Melamede, the film received support from the Sundance Institute and Tribeca Film Institute.

Alongside the launch on PBS/ITVS’ digital YouTube platform, Jahn is planning a nationwide tour for the upcoming year, including a premiere at MIT in April, so the project can spread. There isn’t one person who isn’t impacted by this issue, she says. “Everyone has a story about care. Everyone will be cared for. Everyone will need care.”

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