A collaboration between the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Bureau of Sociological Research, and the Lincoln Mayor’s Office is assuring information about COVID-19 is being disseminated to the city’s Arabic community.
In January, the department paired up with the Bureau of Sociological Research to fill the void that was left when the State of Nebraska’s translation department closed. Amanda Ganshert, senior project manager, knew the bureau needed quality translation services to complete large-scale projects.
“It became apparent that Nebraska needed this infrastructure to better serve its citizens,” Ganshert said. “We’ve been looking for ways to provide this service to others, and a partnership with Modern Languages was formed.”
Nora Peterson, chair of the department, understood the impact this partnership could have on both students and community members.
“We have skills that are desperately needed in order to increase communication and facilitate understanding among various populations in our community,” Peterson said. “We were trying to build connections with the community as a way to create opportunities for our graduate students and to build bridges between our department and Lincoln.”
They could not have predicted how important this collaboration would soon be. In April, shortly after in-person instruction was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19, Peterson reached out to the mayor’s office concerning their interpretation needs.
It didn’t take long to get a response. Mindy Rush Chipman, equity and diversity officer for the City of Lincoln, knew this would be a valuable partnership for the community.
“The city’s partnership with BOSR/DMLL is helping to provide language access to this information and to help address the racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes that exist in Lincoln and are, unfortunately, becoming more pronounced as a result of the virus,” Rush Chipman said.
Together, the Bureau of Sociological Research and Department of Modern Languages and Literatures looked for ways to assist the Mayor’s office with their Arabic interpretations. Yassine Rfissa, a graduate assistant in modern languages, fit their needs perfectly. Rfissa began interpreting the mayor’s COVID-19 press conferences into Arabic on a weekly basis, which he describes as a “very rewarding experience.”
“For me, it is a great opportunity to further develop my interpreting skills, gain experience in interpreting official speeches and proudly assist with getting these important updates about the COVID-19 crisis out to everyone in the community who speaks Arabic,” Rfissa said.
Rfissa will continue doing weekly interpretations, and, pending an increase in funding, these interpretations will become a daily occurrence. Languages are also continuing to be added in order to reach as many Lincoln residents as possible.
“The partnership has already grown, and continues to grow as we add additional languages and frequency of the community briefings that are interpreted each week,” Chipman said. “The BOSR/DMLL team members are flexible to work with and open to helping provide language access in whatever way possible.”
Translations of Mayor Gaylor Baird’s press conferences and prevention guides are available online.