Amer Al Fayyad had difficulty finding housing and work when he moved to the U.S. from Iraq with his parents and four siblings in 2010.
Although he could speak English and despite his professional experience, Al Fayyad said he was told that his top degree in manufacturing was worthless and he had better look for a job in another spheres.
“Imagine if I didn’t speak English,” said Al Fayyad, 40, who lives in Colombia with his wife and four children. “When there is a language barrier, you can’t access resources, and it’s very difficult to fit into a new country. I have met many immigrants who face a similar situation. Many of them cannot resume their careers or get help when they come to the United States because of the language. ”
In 2021, Al Fayyad contacted the United Way of Lancaster County to create a program that offers language services for non-English speakers. In January, the nonprofit agency, in partnership with Al Fayadh Communication Essentials, launched the Lancaster Language Justice Initiative to support local efforts to promote access to language and justice.
“It was Amer’s idea, and UWLC became a partner because for us it’s a matter of equity,” said Isa Ashraf, director of shares at local United Way. “Our vision is to create a fair Lancaster County where everyone will have the opportunity to succeed because it’s the only way for the whole community to thrive and prosper.”
A certified Arabic translator and licensed trainer of translators, Al Fayyad founded his company in 2020. The Lancaster-based company offers translation and interpretation services through a team of contractors who provide services in more than 150 languages.
“We are committed to providing this service to society, and we want to be a resource for the community,” Al Fayyad said of his business.
Lancaster Language Justice Initiative
According to the Lancaster Language Justice Initiative’s website, “linguistic justice refers to everyone’s right to speak the language they feel most comfortable in.”
“Communication can be fraught with problems and misunderstandings,” Ashraf said. “These problems are exacerbated when people cannot use their language. Identifying resources, understanding options, filling out forms, and navigation systems can be even more challenging for those who speak another language. ”
The local organization United Way and Communication Essentials recently announced five grants under an initiative program to support efforts to promote access to language and equality. Grants are provided in the form of training and technical assistance, as well as translation and / or oral services for up to $ 5,000.
Grants were awarded to the City of Lancaster, the Lancaster Bar Association, the Lancaster Recreation Commission, the Lancaster County Library System and the Lancaster-Lebanon Center for Success in Learning and Literacy.
The Lancaster Language Justice Initiative program is sponsored in part by $ 9,000 from the Walters Trust, the Arthur Foundation and the Selma Walters Unitary Universal Church in Lancaster, which supports local nonprofits.
According to a United Way of Lancaster County press release, then the grants will provide one or more of the following activities depending on the needs of each recipient:
- Evaluates the language access plan
- Help establish accessibility procedures and best practices
- Identify language needs and / or prioritize documents for transition
- Identify board members, staff, or community volunteers who could potentially serve as in-house translators and cultural advisors.
“We conduct training as part of our commitment to this community. Our service will cost up to $ 5,000, and it will be tailored to the needs of each organization, ”Al Fayyad said. “We will work with these organizations until the end of 2022 to help create a foundation for their services.”