Interpreters Help Build Bridges between Cultures

by Jean Silk, JCARR Coordinator

JCARR’s interpreters often facilitate difficult, sensitive and challenging conversations. We spotlight our interpreters here as a token of our gratitude for their work with the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement (JCARR).

CLAIRE GASANA came to the U.S. from Rwanda. She speaks Swahili, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, French and English. She interpreted for JCARR’s first family of four young adult siblings from the Democratic Republic of Congo; they came to New Haven without their parents in 2016. Gasana remembers some emotional moments. The siblings lived in a refugee camp in Rwanda for 10 years. They had to learn how to function as adults in a different world and in a new language. She realized that the family put their trust in her as she served as their bridge between two cultures.

“They felt safe when I was there. It was important that I was able to speak their language,” Gasana says about explaining how JCARR could help them.

MOHAMMED ENNEJJAR is a language teacher from Morocco. With JCARR, he has been the main interpreter for an elderly couple from Iraq.

“I remember when they were preparing to meet with a lawyer about their application for a green card. I had to explain each question so they could express themselves about so many issues. They came to understand how time and bureaucracy work in this country. I think it’s because I’m an American, and speak his language and understand his culture; he believed and trusted me so he accepted the information,” says Ennejjar.

Ennejjar recalls an experience interpreting for another JCARR family member in a meeting with his doctor after surgery about pain medication. The doctor ended up prescribing a different medication based on the translated information Ennejjar gave.

ELIZABETH (BETH) JACKSON, PHD, teaches at Wesleyan and Yale Universities and is a literary translator from Portuguese. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, some French, a smattering of Hindi and Japanese.

“I learned about JCARR seeking a Portuguese interpreter for a family from Angola, and I offered to help. When the girls in the family got off the bus in February, they were delighted when I greeted them in Portuguese. I have facilitated conversations on finance, health, technology, groceries, education, employment and legal affairs. Whenever I interpret for JCARR, I am impressed with the commitment and focus as everyone works to integrate and empower the family.”

MARÍLIA VILAS-BOAS MONTGOMERY was born in Portugal. “I was an adult ESL teacher for more than 20 years. I used Spanish, French and Portuguese frequently to help students communicate with me and other staff members. A volunteer in one of my classes contacted me to translate for the Angolan refugee family for JCARR.”

JAMILA BENSEGHIR is the founder and president of Language Queen, which provides interpreters for corporate and other clients. She speaks Arabic, French and English. As a child, Benseghir was exposed to diverse languages and religions. She and her staff of interpreters have worked with all of JCARR’s Arabic-speaking families.

One of Benseghir’s most moving interpreting experiences occurred before she worked with JCARR. “An ambulance was going to the ER and the person was dying. They tried many interpreters but no one could understand what the person was saying. Then they called me. The person was actually saying the prayer for the dying; it’s very important for Muslims to say it before they die. I started by saying the first words, he started saying it with me; he said the whole prayer, and then he died.”

“I love helping people,” Benseghir says. That sums up what makes JCARR’s interpreters special. They are essential members of the caring team that works together to build bridges of understanding between people of different cultures; to help families build new lives in our communities; and to create meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

For contact information for any of our interpreters, email Your donations help sustain JCARR’s work, including paying interpreters. Donate online at give.

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