Issues like domestic violence and human trafficking are prevalent throughout the world. Sometimes, equally prevalent is the inability of victims to receive aid in their situation, whether it be aid in the form of legal interpretation, humanitarian assistance or language translations.
Emory Legal Interpreters (ELI), recently started by college sophomores Samantha Stevens, Daniel Wiesner, Gabriela Suarez and Giancarlo Ghinatti, aims to aid such victims who are unable to receive legal aid due to a language barrier. Working in close conjunction with Tapestri, Inc, a non-profit organization, ELI hopes to address the root of a huge problem and bring together the entire Emory community, from professors to students to administrators.
Tapestri, Inc works toward ending violence and oppression in refugee and immigrant communities. They advocate and aid individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and exploitation. Around 70 percent of their clients are Hispanic, and when such clients approach Tapestri, they are unable to receive the help they need because there is nobody to translate their story. This is where ELI comes in. Stevens, having worked with Tapestri before, recognized their pressing need for language interpreters. With this in mind, she partnered with Wiesner, Suarez and Ghinatti to form ELI, whose aims are in two parts. The first is to provide interpreters to Tapestri; while ELI is currently focusing on providing Spanish interpreters, they hope to later provide other language interpreters as well. Their second aim is to get Emory students legally certified by the state of Georgia to interpret, meaning that their translations can be used as testimony in court.
The value of these services, according to Stevens and Wiesner, is immeasurable.
“This is someone telling you the worst thing that has ever happened to them,” Stevens said. “They have the right to safety and a violence-free life, and an interpreter not being there is denying them that right, as well as their kids. So many have children living in this situation … to allow this to continue is very wrong.”
She continued to stress that when victims arrive at Tapestri to request aid and there isn’t an interpreter present, they are not always able to come back at another time. This missed chance to change someone’s life is what drives these students.
“Our time is so valuable that we can spend it helping others for a lifetime,” Weisner said. “The more people we have, the more lives we can change.”
When these victims come to Tapestri, explained Stevens, they are ready to change their life. With Tapestri’s help, they are transported to a safe location, able to file restraining orders or temporary protective orders and given the option to enroll in free therapy.
Tapestri also connects them to Georgia Asylym and Immigration Network (GAIN), who in turn aid victims by connecting them to pro bono lawyers so they can file a legal case.
Throughout this entire process, interpreters are of paramount importance, especially when victims are explaining their situation to Tapestri workers or when they are talking to their attorneys. The language barrier essentially prevents them from getting out of the situation they are in.
“You become a catalyst; you have the opportunity to completely change the direction of their lives,” Stevens said.
The prevalence of this issue is not to be underestimated.
“You don’t realize how bad it is until you see how many new clients you get every day,” Stevens emphasized.
Tapestri, despite covering the relatively small area of metro Atlanta, receives a sizable number of clients each day. At the same time, the reported cases are only a fraction of the many unreported ones actually taking place.
Being an interpreter will not only benefit the community and victims, but also the interpreter himself or herself. Aside from the personal development interpreters would experience, Weisner stressed the exposure and skills interpreters gain: not only experience with prevalent social issues, but also law, the structure and organization of a company, professional interpreting and a businesslike environment.
Interpreters work with Tapestri workers, pro bono lawyers and victims both in person and over the phone. In order to become an interpreter, students first need to undergo training for about a month and a half. While the language skill is extremely important, equally important is learning how to interpret exactly what someone means in a linear and accurate way.
This ties into the ethics of interpreting, wherein interpreters can truly make it or break it for clients. Interpreters also learn about the issues and repercussions of domestic violence and human trafficking.
The way interpreters act around the client is instrumental; they must be formal and professional and yet sympathetic as they are dealing with extremely-delicate subjects. ELI hopes to finish training and start helping Tapestri by April.
Stevens and Wiesner are both eagerly looking forward to the positive change they can inflict on the community around them.
“It changes you as a person,” Stevens said. “You’re working to change the culture of violence in our community.”
– By Tanvi Lal