Add language barriers to the list of frustrations brought by the season’s multiple hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and now Maria.
Of the many challenges involved in disaster response, having trouble communicating with the person you are trying to help — or not being able to ask for the help you need — can be the most frustrating aftermath of a natural disaster.
According to the American Public Health Association, immigrants in disaster areas are especially vulnerable because of their immigration status, lack of English proficiency and a lack of access to resources.
Anh-Thu Ho, founder of the Ladon Language Team, now offers free language support for responders and volunteers in the wake of the hurricanes. Currently, translation is available in Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic and Chinese — both Cantonese and Mandarin. Ladon is also looking for additional volunteers who can serve as translators.
How it works: Responders can call the Ladon Language Hotline at 844-561-4888 to connect to a language assistant who can help translate over the phone. Users can also text the hotline to request translation of any short text. To request document translation, users can email the document to Ladon.Team@gmail.com.
How to help: If you want to join the Ladon Language Team as a translator, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call founder Anh-Thu Ho at 510-900-3839.
The initial languages were selected based on the immigrant populations in California at the time Ho founded the company as a class project while she was working as a volunteer legal and medical interpreter at University of California, Berkeley. Ho says more languages are in the process of being added — like French and Creole, to better serve communities like South Florida with its large Haitian population.
“We are learning to support immigrants in other states,” she said.
Anyone can use the service. But with the crush of back-to-back hurricanes starting with Harvey in Texas, Irma in South Florida and the Keys, and Maria in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Caribbean, Ladon has responded to areas that suddenly find newcomers entering communities to work at shelters and who are fanning out into the communities.
“Right now, the focus is on helping responders and volunteers communicate with non-English speakers so they can get adequate support and aid,” Ho said.
The language team has doubled to 200 since Ladon’s founding in spring 2016. Initially, the company was popular with teachers who would call in during parent-teacher conferences to talk to non-English-speaking parents. Social workers at nonprofit organizations also dialed in to the service.
Harvey, Irma and Maria added new challenges.
“Immigrants are especially vulnerable to exploitation, and cannot access the critical services they may need. They are also prone to being taken advantage of. Because they cannot understand what is happening, they have great fear. We provide the most valuable first step — understanding — something that is critical to disaster response,” Ho said.
Her social initiative is supported by the Clinton Global Initiative University, The Resolution Project, and Westly Foundation.
How to help
Have language skills? If you want to join the Ladon Language Team as a translator, email email@example.com or call founder Anh-Thu Ho at 510-900-3839.