English translated into new meaning
Before the interpreter arrived, Marina Asencio got confused during her weekly parent group meetings at Child Development Resources. She was unsure about what was discussed, or even the general topic of the day’s group. Unable to communicate, Asencio felt shy and uncomfortable. She felt nervous and wouldn’t speak up. Last fall, Gloria Perricone, an interpreter with the Network for Latino People’s Community & Medical Interpretation Services program, began going to the parent group meetings. Now things are different. “I truly enjoy coming to parent group,” said Asencio through an interpreter in a recent interview.
The Community & Medical Interpretation Services program was launched nearly a year ago. The goal was to provide trained interpreters to assist Spanish-speaking immigrants. The program is sponsored by the Network for Latino People and ExactLingua, which manages the day-to-day operations of the program. There are about 17 interpreters, and each has undergone 40 hours of medical interpretation training. Since March 2007 interpreters have been sent on more than 200 assignments to around a dozen clients. Some of the bigger clients include Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, Child Development Resources, WJC Schools, and Social Services departments of York, Williamsburg and James City.
Ralph Romero, managing partner of ExactLingua, said an agreement is in place with Sentara Williamsburg that allows selected interpreters to be contacted directly after hours to expedite in an emergency. Members of the Network for Latino People were initially offered a scholarship that allowed them free interpretation services. Once that funding expires, members pay $35 an hour compared to $45 for non-members. That covers administrative costs as well as the hourly rate of the interpreters. Gloria Morales, coordinator for the Network for Latino People, said two interpreters are certified to train other interpreters. The goal is to train another group of interpreters later this year.
All interpreters are extensively tested to make sure they are fluent in English and Spanish. They are trained in medical terminology, ethics and sensitivity to cultural differences.”People really lighten up when they have the opportunity to speak with someone who understands them not only in language, but also culturally,” Romero said. Donna Gettings Apperson, a parent group facilitator with Child Development Resources, said that before there was an interpreter at the parent meetings it was like there were two separate groups. “I felt that some parents were not getting what they needed to be getting out of the group,” Apperson said.
Since Perricone joined the group things have been a lot better. At a recent parent group, Spanish-speaking mothers sat side-by-side with English-speaking mothers. Although the Spanish-speaking moms were quiet, they got engaged in making homemade toys for their children. English-speaking parents would offer up the few Spanish words they knew. Some would ask, “What’s the word for stickers?” or “How do you say blue? Azul?” Asencio, a mother of seven, is from El Salvador and has lived in Williamsburg five years. Before she began going to the parent meetings, she used to spend most of her days at home and didn’t go out.
“Now I no longer have to be at home, and can open up and not be as shy,” she said, referring to parent groups. “Now that we have an interpreter, it feels a lot better and more comfortable.” Elida Martinez, a young mother of three from Mexico, has been going to the parent group for the past few months. “It is a beautiful experience to be able to talk to the other parents,” Martinez said, adding that the group gives her an opportunity to practice speaking English. Gabriela Perez said that being able to actively participate in the group has offered her support.
“I became a mom at 17 years old and I had no experience at all,” she said. “The group has helped me become a better mom and a better person.” Perez said that participating in the group helps to bridge cultural gaps. “I have a child that was born in the United States who will be raised in the culture of America,” she said. “It is important for my child to have both the Hispanic culture and the American culture.” Apperson said that using an interpreter has made a big difference in the parent meetings. “We are meeting the needs of the parents regardless of what language they speak,” she said. For Perricone, who immigrated from El Salvador 20 years ago, being an interpreter is deeply personal.
“I am giving people the help they need, the help I would have wanted 20 years ago,” she said. “Knowing that I am able to help these people just take a little step forward, as a person it gives me such a satisfaction to be able to help them out.”