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  • Writer's pictureJust Words Collective

Community Interpreting with The People's Medicine Project

Between April and June 2021, The People’s Medicine Project held free outdoor clinics in Turner’s Falls and Springfield during the PVWC food distribution at these locations. Just Words connected this initiative with volunteer interpreters that helped present the clinics’ services to the local Spanish-speaking community. We contacted UMass students, local interpreters and translators, and community members and got an extraordinary response.

On site, our volunteers served not only as language interpreters but also as cultural ambassadors as they welcomed attendees to try some of the free services offered. As they encouraged people to sit or lay down for an acupuncture session or a chair massage, they explained what these were and some of their health benefits. One of our volunteers tells us that “having that many welcoming and bilingual volunteers is important as I could see a lot of Hispanic people already knew people from the team and felt comfortable communicating with them and approaching the different tents.”

The star service, however, was the herbal consultation table. Attendees sat down with a herbalist, asked questions, and received complimentary herbal treatments. Quickly our volunteers and The People’s Medicine Project staff realized the linguistic diversity in Spanish(es) when it comes to the names of herbs and plants. This is a knowledge gap that Leslie Chaison, the Program Director, looks forward to filling in consultation with Spanish speakers. She tells us that it is not only the language that is important but also learning more about the different uses of herbs and plants in different cultures and being able to share and elevate that knowledge.

The experience was nourishing and productive for volunteers, attendees, and the clinic’s staff alike. Volunteers filled in the communication gaps, making the environment welcoming and the services accessible. Our volunteers had a chance to learn new things and interact with the local community and these organizations.

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