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Last summer, SPU professor Patrick McDonald called the Yakima Health District with a question: Could the Health District use some help translating documents into Spanish? McDonald had heard COVID-19 cases and death rates in that area had been rising much more quickly than in other parts of Washington state, and it appeared that one of the challenges the district faced was distributing COVID-19 information to Spanish-speaking residents

Lilian Bravo, the district’s director of public health partnerships, was very open to their offer.

That was all McDonald needed to hear. The professor of philosophy was also the faculty advisor for the SPU chapter of MEChA, SPU’s Spanish and Latino student club. McDonald knew several Spanish-speaking SPU students who could quickly and accurately translate important COVID-19 information and safety guidelines into Spanish.

McDonald handed the project to Alexandra (Alé) Olmedo, student co-president of the SPU MEChA chapter. (Olmedo is now a senior and still co-leads the club.) Olmedo quickly pulled together a group of fellow students to translate two important documents into Spanish for use around Yakima:

  • A guide for local churches and religious organizations about conducting services safely; and,
  • A county-wide press release announcing the local impact of COVID-19.

McDonald said the team produced clean, grammatically and stylistically solid versions of the documents, which were soon put to use in the community. And Bravo said she also was pleased with the translation and turnaround time from this committed group of students. Perhaps most importantly, their quick work helped free her staff to address critical strategy issues as they struggled to get a handle on the rising pandemic.

“Thank you to the SPU students that worked with us during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Meanwhile, SPU’s MEChA students found the lessons they learned from the task would translate into much more than simple health messages.

“I learned that there are people out there who, with just a little bit of help from others, can benefit a lot,” said Gio Gonzalez, a junior (now senior) who participated in the project. “Many who can’t read English benefit from a simple translation that took about an hour or two from my life. Something simple had a bigger impact.”

“Our students definitely are interested in helping out where there’s a need, and maintaining connections with their communities,” added McDonald. “They are very capable.”

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