Amer Al Fayadh struggled to find housing and employment when he relocated to the United States from Iraq with his parents and four siblings in 2010.
Although he spoke English and despite his work experience, Al Fayadh said he was told that his university degree in production engineering was worthless and that it was better to look for a job in another field.
“Imagine if I didn’t speak English,” said Al Fayadh, 40, who lives in Colombia with his wife and four children. “When there is a language barrier, you cannot access resources and it is very difficult to integrate into a new country. I have met many immigrants who face a similar situation. Many of them cannot resume their careers or get support when they come to the United States because of the language.
Al Fayadh approached United Way of Lancaster County in 2021 to create a program that provides language services to non-English speakers. In January, the nonprofit agency partnered with Al Fayadh’s Communication Essentials company to launch the Lancaster Language Justice Initiative to support local efforts to advance language access and equity.
“It was Amer’s idea, and UWLC partnered because for us, it’s about equity,” said Aiza Ashraf, United Way’s local equity director. “Our vision is to create an equitable Lancaster County where every individual has the opportunity to succeed, because that is the only way for an entire community to prosper and prosper.”
A Certified Arabic Interpreter and Certified Interpreter Trainer, Al Fayadh founded his company in 2020. Based in Lancaster Township, the company offers translation and interpreting services through a team of outsourced services in over 150 languages.
“We are committed to providing this service to the community, and we want to be a resource for the community,” Al Fayadh said of his business.
Lancaster Language Justice Initiative
According to the Lancaster Language Justice Initiative program website, “linguistic justice refers to everyone’s right to communicate in the language in which they feel most comfortable.”
“Communication can be fraught with pitfalls and misunderstandings,” Ashraf said. “These problems are intensified when individuals are unable to use their preferred language. Identifying resources, understanding options, filling out forms and navigating systems can be even more complicated for someone who speaks another language.
The local United Way and Communication Essentials recently announced that they are awarding five grants under the initiative program to support efforts to advance language access and equality. Grants are in the form of training and technical assistance, and translation and/or interpretation services to a maximum value of $5,000.
Grants have been awarded to the City of Lancaster, Lancaster Bar Association, Lancaster Recreation Commission, Library System of Lancaster County, and Literacy & Learning Success Centers in Lancaster-Lebanon.
The Lancaster Language Justice Initiative program is sponsored in part by $9,000 from the Walters Trust, an endowment from Arthur and Selma Walters to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, which supports local nonprofit organizations.
According to a United Way of Lancaster County press release, the grants will provide one or more of the following activities based on the needs of each recipient:
- Evaluate a 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 interpreters/translators and cultural advisors.
“We provide the training as part of our commitment to this community. Our service will be worth up to $5,000 and will be tailored to the needs of each organization,” Al Fayadh said. “We will be working with these organizations through the end of 2022 to help lay the foundation for their services.”