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 their 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 Covid-related scripts consistently in 10 languages.
In November 2021, thanks to a CDC Health Disparities Grant, administrated by the Vermont Department of Health, the project received two years of funding and was able to hire Alison Segar as Project Director. CCTV Center for Media and Democracy, based in Burlington VT, became the home of VLJP, a great match for all.
At the beginning of August 2022, thanks 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.
The Vermont Language Justice Project continues to work closely with more than 20 community partners, and is now translating into 18 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 to our YouTube channel.
The project has expanded its service beyond Chittenden County and has developed important relationships with schools districts around Vermont as well as with both Migrant Justice organizations in Addison County, and the newly formed Ethiopian Community Development Council based in Brattleboro VT. 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.
Expanding the reach and content of multilingual messaging will help to address the larger issue of equity in health care and ensure that basic information is accessible in the language of the patients and clients so that they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.