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Translating in a Pandemic

The Vermont Language Justice Project was launched in March 2020, as a volunteer effort, to ensure that Vermont’s refugees, migrants, asylees and immigrants had access to information in their native languages about the COVID-19 virus and how to protect themselves, their families and communities.

The first video message was recorded in Somali, uploaded to a new YouTube channel and distributed to Somali and Somali Bantu contacts through social media and Whatsapp. By mid-April the script had been translated into 15 languages spoken locally and a task force was formed with over 40 community partners working with refugees, migrants, asylees and immigrants in Chittenden County, Vermont.

Those partners included the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) and The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Vermont. In June 2020, working with funding from the Vermont Department of Health, the Project was able to pay its translators, all trusted members of their communities, and produce and distribute life saving Covid information in at least 10 languages.

In November 2021, thanks to a CDC Health Disparities Grant, administered by the Vermont Department of Health, the project received two years of funding and was able to hire a full time project director. CCTV Center for Media and Democracy, based in Burlington VT became the home of VLJP, a perfect match for both non profits.

When the covid rapid antigen home tests became the new norm we translated the six most popular tests into 16 languages, and did “how to” videos. These videos were extremely popular because, (of course) the written instructions were only in English or Spanish. They had a viewership of over 50,000 and were viewed across the world from Saudi Arabia to Costa Rica.

At the beginning of August 2022 due to a further grant through the Vermont Department of Health we were able to employ a project manager to support the work of the project director with the ever expanding scope of work being undertaken.

By the mid February 2023, the Vermont Language Justice Project has produced over 1000 informational videos and sound files and has had more than 124,000 hits on the YouTube channel with 422 current subscribers.

The Vermont Language Justice Project continues to work closely with more than 20 local community partners, and is now translating into 16 languages, including Ukrainian, Pashto and Dari to accommodate the new arrivals from Ukraine and Afghanistan, and has added American Sign Language (ASL), English, and Mandarin Chinese to their YouTube channel.

The project has expanded its services and has developed important relationships with schools districts around Vermont as well as with migrant justice and migrant health organizations. We are expanding our messaging to include both sound files and videos on everyday health needs and procedures in multiple languages.This information is vitally important for non-English speakers who do not have easy access to this information in medical or online settings. Local health professionals and refugees and immigrants report the pressing need for such a service and the weekly number of hits on our YouTube channel is proof that our service is not only in demand but growing in popularity.

The recognition for the work that we are doing is reflected in frequent requests for our services as health providers and organizations across the state. They are beginning to realize that our work is essential if we are to fully recognize the larger issue of equity in health care and beyond to ensure that basic information is accessible in the language of the patient/client so that informed decisions can be made for themselves and for their families.

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