For many recent immigrants and refugees, it can be difficult to navigate the challenges of adjusting to a new country and its culture while dealing with the added difficulty of a language barrier. Global Wordsmiths minimizes this obstacle by providing Pittsburgh’s immigrant and refugee populations with free translation and interpretation services through their Language Access […]

Member Spotlight: Global Wordsmiths expands Language Access Project | The Global Switchboard | Hub

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  1. Member Spotlight: Global Wordsmiths expands Language Access Project

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    For many recent immigrants and refugees, it can be difficult to navigate the challenges of adjusting to a new country and its culture while dealing with the added difficulty of a language barrier. Global Wordsmiths minimizes this obstacle by providing Pittsburgh’s immigrant and refugee populations with free translation and interpretation services through their Language Access Project. In the upcoming months, the flagship program will provide more meaningful programming by working on a series of specific long-term initiatives such as increasing 2020 Census participation and partnerships with local schools.

    The Language Access Project utilizes the expertise of university students around Pittsburgh who are native speakers or have native-level fluency in another language. The students are hired as interns for one or two semesters and are either given class credit or paid for their work by Global Wordsmiths. The interns participate in an intensive translation and interpretation program for professionals before they are paired up with a local partner organization that they will will assist. Current partners of the program are the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

    Since the project’s conception in Fall 2017, it has expanded to its current capacity of 15 student interns and 13 languages. While the provided languages depend on the expertise of student interns, most languages remain a constant part of the program. Current languages include: Spanish, Nepali, Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin, Korean, Indonesian, Swahili, French, Ukrainian and Japanese.

    The intensive professional interpreter training hosts guest speakers in addition to staff members to teach interns about the importance of cultural awareness and confidentiality and the origins and demographics of different immigrant and refugee populations in Pittsburgh. Interns are also trained in a variety of skills used in oral and written translation and interpretation practices.

    Global Wordsmiths’ Summer 2018 interns take a break from their work to pose for a photo together.

    The training program ensures interns are aware of their critical role as interpreters and translators, so they are able to provide maximally beneficial services to the immigrant and refugee populations they work with. Global Wordsmiths’ Executive Director Mary Jayne McCullough stressed the importance of responsible interpretation. As she explained, untrained translators often do more harm than good as they have trouble remaining impartial, taking detailed notes, and not conducting conversations on behalf of the person they are interpreting for.

    “Being an interpreter is about helping people use their voice, rather than speaking for them”

    -Mary Jayne McCullough

    The Language Access Project increases the scope of their translation efforts by focusing on translating documents — such as brochures and intake forms — for partner organizations which will continue to be used after the partnership ends. They also train staff at their partner organizations on how to work efficiently with interpreters and translators in the future. In developing long-term language access plans for partner organizations, they hope organizations will be more purposeful in the work they do and will become more accessible to local populations.

    From June 2019 to January 2020, The Language Access Project will focus on increasing 2020 Census participation in immigrant and refugee communities. To do this, interpreters will knock on doors, make phone calls and translate documents related to the Census and the importance of participating. From January until May 2020, Global Wordsmiths will partner with local nonprofits for an educational cohort.

    Global Wordsmiths is currently accepting internship applications for Fall 2019. Native speakers and graduate students interested in working with vulnerable populations are given preference. Applications for partner organizations are invitation only. If you are interested in applying, contact


    This post was produced through an interview with Global Wordsmith’s Mary Jayne McCullough and was written by Anna Bongardino, a spring 2019 intern for The Global Switchboard.

  2. Global Links’ Nicaragua Project Nears Completion

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    Nicaragua has historically had one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Central America, with 70% of the nation’s maternal deaths occurring in rural areas. Global Links, a member organization of The Global Switchboard,  is working to minimize this issue with the 2017 launch of a program to improve Nicaragua’s maternal and infant health  by providing essential materials for the Ministry of Health’s Casa Materna program.

    Nicaragua’s Casa Materna program began in the 1990s and established more than 170 maternal homes around the country in an attempt to reduce high maternal and infant mortality rates in rural areas. Across the nation, these maternal homes provide care to approximately 3,000 patients everyday. As a result of this program, maternal deaths have been reduced from 96 out of 100,000 live births in 2006 to 34.5 out of 100,000 live births today. While this is great progress, it is still far from the maternal mortality rates of less than 10 per 100,000 live births in many developed countries.

    As a partner of  the Casa Materna program, Global Links assesses the needs of the maternal homes and equips them with necessary materials by sending large shipping containers filled with food, medical supplies and bedroom sets donated by residents, universities, and medical facilities throughout western Pennsylvania. Each shipment provides supplies for ten maternal homes and is packed with the help of some of Global Links’ 4,000 volunteers. While Global Links aims to send a shipment every six weeks, the frequency of their shipments is dependent on the funding they receive for the program.

    A bed donated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh is used in an exam room in one of Nicaragua’s Casa Maternas.

    Global Links also partners with Rise Against Hunger and Computer Reach to provide the maternal homes with micronutrient rich meals and computers for data collection.

    This January, Global Links’ newly appointed Executive Director Angela Garcia made her first trip to Nicaragua to assess the efficiency of the organization’s aid and examined the possibility of additional needs.

    “It was a really powerful trip because I saw how investment in community engagement in Pittsburgh translates to literally saving women’s lives across the nation in Nicaragua.”

    -Angela Garcia, Global Links Executive Director

    Unfortunately, as a result of recent civil unrest in Nicaragua, many governments — including the United States — have withdrawn funding for foreign aid programs in the country. Global Links’ primary logistics and funding partner, PAHO/WHO, no longer receives the funding they need to continue their efforts in Nicaragua. As a result, Global Links was forced to suspend their program between April and November 2018.  

    Without the assistance of Global Links, the maternal homes are not able to get the meals and supplies they need to operate efficiently. As of Spring 2019, Global Links has been able to reinstate the program, providing each home with nutrient-fortified meals and 90 maternal homes with a full set of medical supplies — comprised of a complete exam room and eight to ten bedroom sets. The organization hopes to have fully equipped all 170 facilities by next year, but in order to do so, they are relying on an increase in funding and donations.

    To support Global Links and their continued work in Nicaragua, sign up to volunteer, donate medical supplies, or make a financial donation (you can use the notes section to specify that your donation is for the Nicaragua project).


    This post was produced through an interview with Global Links’ Angela Garcia and was written by Anna Bongardino, a Spring 2019 intern for The Global Switchboard.

  3. Amizade Launches Hill District Global Engagement Coalition

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    For the past 25 years, Amizade has provided global service learning opportunities to more than 12,000 people in 12 countries which span four continents. This January, they launched the Hill District Global Engagement Coalition.

    Earlier this fall, Hill District community leaders selected 30 student ambassadors from high schools in the Hill District to participate in the nine-month program which will allow each student to participate in service learning in both Pittsburgh and in an Amizade site abroad. Amizade hopes interaction between student ambassadors and their host country communities will have a positive impact on the students and that they will return home wanting to share their experience with the larger Hill District community.

    Students who have access to global education have demonstrated improved academic achievement, increased civic engagement, and better employment opportunities in their future. The Global Engagement Coalition aims to minimize this inequity by providing global service learning opportunities to high school students in the Hill District who wouldn’t otherwise have access to international experiences.

    Ambassadors are meeting with their partner organization once a month to workshop skills such as peer mediation and project management and to learn about the history of colonization and slavery. By September, each cohort of students is expected to have planned and implemented their community service project in the Hill District.

    “Helping young black youth starts with helping them identify their history”

    -Tyisha Burroughs, Equity and Inclusion Program Manager for Amizade

    Because there often is a lack of black history education in schools, many black students have to strengthen their identity and understanding of their ancestral history elsewhere. The Hill District Global Engagement Coalition aims to bridge the gap in education by sending students to countries in which people were colonized, enslaved, and brought to countries such as the United States.

    To help them carry out this project, Amizade has enlisted the help of three Hill District organizations — Ujamaa Collective, Reaching Back, and Center that CARES — each of which is sharing their organization’s mission and approach to community engagement with 10 students on the program. This June, students will travel to Ghana, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago (respectively) for 7-10 days with two staff from their partner organization, an Amizade staff member, and the other ambassadors in their cohort.

    Ambassadors traveling to Ghana will visit the ‘Door of No Return’ which was the last sight of Africa for many people who were enslaved and forced out of their country on ships. Whereas students traveling to Jamaica and Trinidad will visit the ports of entry that enslaved people went through upon their arrival.

    Amizade hopes student ambassadors will develop an appreciation for their ancestral history and black identity as well as a deepened understanding of colonization and slavery, and the way in which their harmful legacies continue to affect the world today.

    Getting funding for the Hill District Global Engagement Coalition was a process that spanned several years. Amizade has not yet obtained funding for their 2020 cohort of students, but they hope to partner with more organizations, double the project’s reach to 60 students, and expand the scope of the project by adding the neighborhoods of Westinghouse and Homewood. If you are interested in supporting the Hill District Global Engagement Coalition or Amizade’s other initiatives, click here.


    This post was produced through an interview with Amizade’s Tyisha Burroughs and was written by Anna Bongardino, a Spring 2019 intern for The Global Switchboard.