Syracuse, N.Y. (NCC News)- A Somalian refugee started a business to help refugees and immigrants overcome language barriers. In just eight months, Khadijo Abdulkadir,25, hired 20 refugees to work as her interpreters. This idea emerged from Abdulkadir’s language struggle when coming into the United States almost 10 years ago. She said she remembers when in school she couldn’t read her schedule and had to ask her friends for help.
“I wished there was someone to interpret for me,” Abulkadir said.
When she learned a little English, Abdulkadir started translating for her family. According to Abdulkadir, this is a position most refugees and immigrants’ kids are placed in.
“Community members are using their kids to interpret at the hospitals, private conversations and the kids are put into a position they shouldn’t be in,” Abdulkadir reflected.
Abdulkadir won a competitive grant of $175,000 from Onondaga County’s anti-poverty program and with these funds she started Empower Translation Services of Central New York.
“My proposal was frank. It was like look, this is the problem, and here is the solution. The problem is the language barrier,” Khadijo explained.”The solution is we have interpreters that are well qualified in the community.”
Abdulkadir mentioned some of the struggles she faced in 2009 when she moved to the U.S. were the main reason she started this business. She mentioned her parents had issues with their case manager to provide her a home that would fit the 12 members of her family.
“We didn’t know anything or anybody,” Khadijo recalls the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on due to her family and herself not speaking English.
Her business has 20 interpreters working in 20 languages, including Spanish, French, Burmese, and some dialects. This way she tackles her proposal’s main goals: train refugees become proficient in English and help non-English speakers get the services they need to navigate legal, medical, and education documents. Her business contacts hospitals or schools and offer their services.
“We call St.Joseph’s Hospital, we email them,” Abdulkadir explained. Whichever way we get a hold of them, we let them know what services we have available.”
Khadijo’s sister, Fartun Abdulkadir is one of the business translators.
“I translate for families and then we go to houses or hospitals and translate for them,” Fartun said.
Abdulkadir said her business tries to educate their providers and highlight the importance of having professional interpreters available for their customers who might not speak English.
Abdulkadir hired Language Incorporated, a company based in Minnesota, to help her staff become fluent in English. Language Incorporated trains interpreters in working in medical, human, legal, and education sectors.
“We have qualified individuals,” Abdulkadir said. “This way we ensure their clients receive adequate help.”
Her company’s human resources manager, Farhyia Omar, has worked with Abdulkadir for ten years in a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering women.
“She’s really open-minded and she’s great working with people,” Omar said. “She’s a really good leader for our community.”
Abdulkadir said she wants the refugee community more involved in school boards and city hall meetings. She said in the next five years she will help the refugee community meet these goals.
“We are hardworking people,” Khadijo exclaimed.