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That’s all Nepali to me

Judith Weinstein, MA, MPH
Associate Director
Heartland Alliance Refugee Health Programs
(part of Heartland Health Outreach)
Chicago, IL

The health messages are simple: dress warmly when it’s cold; don’t forget to floss; look left, then right—then left again!–before crossing a street. But the challenge of reaching newly arrived refugees with this basic information is great. Our work in refugee health education is complicated by refugees’ limited English skills, often low literacy levels, the number of different languages spoken, as well as their cultural and ethnic diversity.

Expanding Multi-lingual Health Information for Immigrants and Refugees, made possible with an Outreach Express award from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Greater Midwest Region, allowed us to translate the scripts of five slide presentations on basic health topics in to four key refugee languages, to be recorded by native speakers. Eventually, these multi-media, multi-lingual presentations will be available online for free access and downloading by health promoters and immigrants and refugees themselves.

We selected basic yet urgent health topics, with our urban, Midwestern location in mind: domestic and personal hygiene, cold weather safety, traffic safety, and child nutrition. The scripts of these presentations were translated by Heartland Alliance Cross-Cultural Interpreting Services into the languages spoken by the greatest numbers of new arrivals: Arabic, Burmese, Nepali, Somali.

Finding volunteers to record the scripts in both English and refugee languages was as easy as a few strokes on the computer. The project director posted a request for English speaking volunteers as a Facebook status update and in literally minutes received messages from two volunteers, one of whom has done voiceover work professionally, the other who is an announcer on the local National Public Radio affiliate station. Professional networking (face-to-face and email) proved to be as successful and efficient in identifying Arabic and Somali speakers who also volunteered their time. Thus, the use of social and professional networking media cannot be underestimated for this work.

Although the project was a simple one—to have several scripts translated into key refugee languages—the impact was great. It strengthened the partnership between Heartland Health Outreach and its collaborator on the project, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Library of Health Sciences, expanded community involvement in the project to other resettlement agencies and individuals now interested and aware of our work, and will serve as the basis for accessible downloads from the Refugee Health microsite. Under the follow-on project, New Americans Library and Internet Project, it is expected that the availability of simple PowerPoint documents with an audio script will play a key role in helping newly arrived refugees access quality health information on the Internet and assist them in their path to becoming new Americans. That such information will be available to these individuals and families, in their languages, and accessible regardless of literacy, we hope, will have a positive impact on their physical and mental status.

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