102107 Interpreter By CHINKI SINHA | Observer-Dispatch

UTICA (NY)– MAMI ko talash hai nayi bhashaon ke jaankaron ki. 

If you can understand the statement above, which is written in Hindi/Urdu, then you know you’re needed at MAMI, a local agency that provides interpreter services. 

As the number of non-English speakers in the community grows – fueled by new refugees from Asia and Africa – the demand for interpreters for new languages is growing, according to officials of Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters of Central New York. 

Often that demand is hard to meet. About 10 percent of the population in Utica is composed of immigrants and refugees. While refugees do need help with language, many immigrants, especially seniors or women, also require help with interpretation while seeking medical help. 

‘We need to find people’
“We are always looking to add more languages,” MAMI’s Director Cornelia Brown said. “We even get requests for Polish. We need to find people who are curious and appreciative. They need to make the commitment of time and energy.” 

MAMI recently started its 18th training session in Utica for those interested in becoming an interpreter. With 14 to 15 students taking the course, it is a good class
size, but not quite enough to maintain a high level of service. 

Not only have they not found a Farsi or a Vietnamese speaker, there is only one Arabic-speaking woman and one Somali speaker in the class. 

The organization also is seeking to add more depth to its existing repertoire of languages, such as Burmese, Arabic and Russian. 

“We would appreciate more,” Brown said. “We are still looking to tutor Burmese.” 

Already the staff is too busy, and resources are often stretched to the limit, Brown said. 

Ali Juma, one of the two full-time Somali/Mai Mai interpreters at MAMI, said it is often difficult to be the bridge, which is how he describes his job. Late-night calls to help women in labor, domestic violence and abuse cases make for a tough job, he said. 

“Most of the time I am so busy,” he said. “We connect the provider and the patient.” 

One patient’s story
One such patient is Jamila Dume. She was pregnant with Abdaqadir in 2005 when she had been lying down outside the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, writhing in pain. 

A Somali Bantu refugee who came to the United States in 2004, she knew no English and did not know who to ask for help. Then she saw Lul Mohamed coming her way. 

Mohamed, an interpreter with MAMI, helped Dume see a doctor. When Mohamed translated her fears and her pain from one language to another, Dume finally made herself heard. 

She was so relieved, she said of Mohamed’s translating for her. 

In the beginning, Dume had gone to English as a Second Language classes, but hadn’t been able to learn much. Mostly, because she had never learned to read or write in Mai Mai, her native language. 

“I know nothing. I don’t think I can learn anything. I just go to MAMI office,” she said. 

Letters from Department of Social Services, schools, doctors – she takes them all to the MAMI office. 

“We just help them,” Mohamed said. 

Burmese refugees
Another group that requires help with language is refugees from Myanmar, formerly Burma. About 321 refugees from Myanmar came to Utica in August and September, joining many that already arrived. 

Among them is Mar Met. 

While Met is trying to make sense of the new world through bits and pieces of English that he picked up in the camps in Thailand, the meaning is often lost in translation and chaos returns. 

The Burmese/Karen or the Bosnian staff at MAMI are busy around the clock. MAMI currently has one Burmese/Karen staff and four independent contractors, officials said. Yet MAMI is struggling to catch up. 

“We are anticipating high demand,” she said. 

Immigrant’s tale 

Also in demand is Arabic-speaking interpreters. 

Enas Alkhader is from Yemen and is the only Arabic-speaking student in the class learning how to interpret for those seeking help in her community. 

She already has helped neighbors, friends and others make sense of such things as their prescriptions and doctor appointments. But a “he said and she said” approach doesn’t really work very well, she said. When her neighbor Liliana Vidovic told her about MAMI’s training program, she enrolled. 

“They are mistreated, they can’t even say they are in pain,” Alkhader said. “A lot of people just shake their heads … they just take the medication.” 

Most people in her community – Lebanese, Egyptians, and those from Yemen – can speak English. It is the elderly who often need help. 

Then after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, most of the Arab community in Utica dept to themselves fearing bad treatment because of stereotyping, she said. 

“They don’t try to involve themselves,” she said. “We were the victims, too.” 

Alkhader is concerned the class does not have more Arabic-speaking students. She asked MAMI’s Cornelia Brown to promote the program more. The problem is not many people know help is there, or they could join these classes to help out others, she said. 

“We need at least five between Utica and Syracuse,” she said. 

Utica’s high diversity
MAMI offers about 25 languages, but that does not cover Utica’s diversity. 

With attitude toward professional interpreting changing, people are warming up to the idea of having trained interpreters help them communicate instead of friends and family members who often edit out bad news or may make bad decisions. 

“A lot of people are requiring interpretation,” Brown said. “We have all these languages here by virtue of who lives here.” 

Changes in law have also generated more demand. 

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, any organization receiving federal funding must provide interpreters to speakers of other languages. While MAMI started in 1999, a cut in funding after 9/11 led the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees to consider other avenues to generate revenues. 

So in 2004, refugee center launched fee-based interpreting services. 

Now, the Refugee Center offers about 13 languages, according to Shelly Callahan of the center. 

“We have contracts with numerous providers, hospitals, schools and others for whom we provide between 3,000 to 5,000 interpretations each year,” Executive Director Peter Vogelaar said. 

That’s just an indication of the demand. 

The organization also has added more services, such as 24-hour help for law enforcement agencies, area courts, and for mental-health patients. 

Now, the organization is exploring the option to help in the financial-services area. 

“Refugees need to buy homes,” Brown said.

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