Imagine that you and your family move to a country and you have, at best, basic language skills. At some point, someone in your family needs medical attention. Even with excellent language skills, obtaining quality care and making the myraid of important decisions can be a dizzying experience filled with unfamiliar technical language. Now imagine this experience when the conversation is not in your first language. In this case, having someone to assist you in translating would be welcomed.

Earlier this spring, Rasmuson Foundation Program Officer Sammye Pokryfki attended a graduation ceremony for the first class of medical interpreters certified by the new Language Interpreter Center (LIC), a program of Alaska Immigration Justice Project.

In 2007, Rasmuson Foundation awarded $450,000 over three years for this new program. Twenty-two people representing 13 different languages completed a 40-hour medical interpreting course instructed by Rose Long from the Cross Cultural Health Care Program (CCHCP) in Seattle. The languages spoken by the participants include Chinese, Korean, Lao, Hmong, Russian, Spanish, Tagalong, Sudanese, French, Filipino, German, Yup’ik, and Vietnamese.

Part of the graduation ceremony included allowing each participant to explain what they learned from the course. In addition to numerous comments about learning how to help others navigate the health care system, the participants demonstrated an appreciation for learning about the other cultures represented in the group. Here are just a few of the comments made by participants:

“Before this class I looked down on someone for not speaking English. I now have a huge big heart for all of you.”

“I have the hope that as one community we can share the future in Alaska.”

“Before coming to the class, my feeling is heavy, humiliated, and humble. I was not sure who am I. I understand now more my role in society.”

The interpreters are available for assignment to any nonprofit, state agency or business. The interpreters are paid for their services. The Alaska Community Foundation (Norton Cruz Family Foundation), United Way of Anchorage, Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center sponsored the training.

More information about the program can be found here.