Can you have community engagement without a clear idea on who the people are in your community? Despite good efforts, I’ve recently read about examples in the news where community members were excluded due to cultural or language access limitations. Read these examples and tell me. . .what went wrong?

Example #1: Teacher’s Strike in Los Angeles, CA

I heard a program on NPR about the recent teacher strike in Los Angeles. A Spanish-speaking father went to drop his son off at school, but there was no school. The district sent communication out, but it was not in Spanish. The father had no idea there was a strike going on. Once he got to the school, he realized quickly he was going to have to scramble for child care.

Although the student’s needs are being considered in the school district, in this case the family’s needs were not. I wonder if this father really feels like he is a part of the school community?

How can a school improve community engagement by proactively helping non-English speaking families take part in a meaningful way?

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Example #2: Measles Outbreak in Clark County, WA

My county is in the news recently, but not in a good way. There is a measles outbreak–more than 40 people have contracted this awful condition, which is completely avoidable with modern vaccinations. The public reaction has been very harsh. Even I found myself judging people saying things like “these anti-vaccination believers are crazy and causing all kinds of public health issues!”.

But then I read that the outbreak began in a local Slovak church. Clark County has a strong immigrant community. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, 15% of the county speaks a language other than English at home. The church where the outbreak may have started does not teach that vaccinations are harmful; however, some immigrants and refuges are distrustful and choose not to get them. Per the article:

. . .some parents mistrust the vaccines. The mistrust may be a holdover from time spent living in the former Soviet Union.

That last thought made me much more sympathetic. Instead of meeting these people where they are, we write them off as “crazy anti-vaccinators”. Maybe we should be asking ourselves how we can provide better education and resources for people who are originally from other cultures?

What Lessons Can We Derive from these Examples to Improve Community Engagement?

  1. Immigrants/Refuges are part of our community.
  2. Limited-English speakers aren’t getting the same information as the native English speakers.
  3. An increased effort from educational and public organizations to provide meaningful access to information will benefit the whole community.
  4. Inclusion means providing information as well as listening to community members who have limited-English speaking abilities.
  5. There are support and tools to help you do this!

The good news is–we can help. By sitting down with one of our Coordinators, we can design a solution that will meet the needs of everyone in your community. Whether you need an interpreter at a town hall, access to translators, or building an informational website — we can help! Contact us today.

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