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Language is power

access2safety photo

We were delighted to be invited to the launch of Access2Safety yesterday - it was an incredibly inspiring event and we are honoured to have played a small part in bringing it to fruition.

Access2Safety is a social enterprise set up by the team at Saheliya. Saheliya (from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘women friends’) provides mental health and well-being support for women and girls aged 12+ from black, minority ethnic (BME), asylum seeker, refugee and migrant communities in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other parts of Scotland.

During their work Saheliya found that many of their service users were struggling to access appropriate language support. As well as being isolating, in many cases the lack of access to language support and sensitive interpreters was actually putting women in danger.

Access to Safety provies specialist language support from women who are specially trained, trauma-informed, and speak more than 30 languages and dialects.

Many women who will benefit from this lifeline need to be able to talk about traumatic events such as forced marriage, domestic abuse, rape, FGM or other sensitive subjects - they need to be able to talk freely and trust their translator implicitly. Sometimes it can be as simple as having a woman interpreter, having one who speaks the correct dialect (eg Arabic is made up of many different dialects and a speaker of one dialect may not understand a speak of another dialect) and having an interpreter who is not known to them when they are talking about extremely personal matters. It sounds simple but it is not something that was happening and that's where Access2safety comes in.

There are many interpreters out there but these women need someone who understands the system to advocate for them and to do so without fear of cultural taboos and cultural norms getting in the way of support. One of the important messages from yesterday was that the wrong interpreter can sometimes be just as damaging as none at all.

Inspiring stories

There were lots of inspiring speakers at the event including Saheliya staff and service users and original Glasgow Girl Amal Azuddin. Oh and Davidfuzzylime said a few words too!

One of the most powerful parts was the real life stories - it was so powerful to see just how vulnerable we are if we don't have language.

One story told of how police were called after neighbours reported hearing screaming and sounds of a fight. When police arrived they found a woman and man - the man had scratch marks and a bite mark. He could speak English but his wife couldn't. He accused his wife of attacking him and she was arrested and taken to the police station. The police-provided interpreter was a man.

She felt she couldn't tell him what had happened, she was worried for her baby son, worried he would be taken away, worried her husband would hurt her again and hurt her son (he had been arrested before for violence but her family and the community put pressure on her to go back and drop the charges).

She was later released on condition that she did not return to her home - her baby son was left with her husband.

She was heartbroken but didn't know what she could do - she had no language to ask for help. She went to the homeless unit but they couldn't help her as she had no benefits as they were all in her husband's name.

She stayed with a friend for a couple of nights but her friend's husband asked her to leave as her husband was putting pressure on him.

Offering dignity, respect and humanity

Fortunately someone told her about Saheliya and they were able to help - funding emergency B&B accommodation for her and helping her to access benefits, finding her somewhere to stay, and advocating for her to get her baby back. Giving her the power of language.

Another woman, an FGM survivor, was in extreme pain and struggling to pass urine as a result of what had happened to her. She made an appointment with her GP and the interpreter they provided was a man from her community, someone she knew. When the GP asked what was wrong she was unable to tell him as she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about such intimate areas in front of a man she knew so she had to make up symptoms of an earache. This happened several times - she requested a different translator, a woman, but each time she went to the doctor she had the same interpreter.

She was embarrassed and upset at wasting the doctor's time, being prescribed drugs she didn't need or use and was still in agony. Saheliya found her an interpreter she could open up in front of and she got the help she needed. A lot of pain could have been avoided if she had been able to access the correct support first time - not to mention the wasted doctor's appointments and prescriptions.

Just two examples of how a lot of trauma, pain, time and money could have been saved if Access2Safety was being used.

If you work for the NHS, police, social services or any other service provider that uses interpreters or for an organisation you think should be using interpreters then get in touch with Access2Safety - the money spent will fund the innovative and inspiring work of Saheliya. The list of lanaguages/dialects listed on the website is not exhaustive so do still get in touch if the language you need is not on the list.

Have a look at the website to find out more information.

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