The challenge of interpretation confronts CRS’ staff members on daily basis. Over the past year those languages most frequently needing translation are Pashto and Dari (Afghanistan), Rohingya (Myanmar), Tigrinya (Eritrea), Farsi (Iran) and languages spoken in the DRC. Unfortunately, while some of our staff members do speak some languages other than English, they are not these needed languages. Consequently, CRS often relies on other clients, if available to assist with translation. However, this is hit or miss, and creates an awkward situation of clients disclosing personal information to those outside of their family members.
As in many immigrant cultures, children often serve as interpreters, as they have acquired English fluency in school before their parents or seniors. However, this responsibility can also put undue pressure on younger members of the family. For quick exchanges of brief information, CRS has relied on Google Translate, a free app. Staff can type in a question in English, translate it into Pashto, copy the Pashto and paste it into a text sent to the client’s phone. This works well for maintaining social distancing during COVID-19, but only works for short exchanges and if the client can read in their native language. Many of our female Afghan clients are not literate, and Rohingya presents the added problem of not being a written language.
What to do? The Center for Refugee Services applied for and was recently awarded $10,000 from the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio’s Community Impact Grants to fund phone interpreter services. Funds will be used for a credentialed, HIPAA-compliant phone interpretation service available 24/7 providing immediate interpretation for legally resettled clients in over 200 languages, including those most frequently spoken by refugees CRS serves (i.e., Pashto, Dari, Rohingya, Kinyarwanda, Tigrinya, and Arabic). $10,000 in grant funds equals 7,692 minutes, which in practice will be 160 minutes a week or 32 minutes per day. CRS will begin accessing the phone interpreter services in January 2021.
CRS will be able to patch in the client’s cell and then call the service for interpretation for both more complicated client issues or applications for social services, such as Medicaid, or SNAP. This will afford the clients greater privacy on their personal issues, can be used even for psychosocial counseling and will reduce the need for clients to return to our office with a family or friend who can interpret on their behalf. The Center for Refugee Services is so grateful to the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio for their generosity and concern for the wellbeing of our refugee clients.