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Akron Agencies Work to Communicate Coronavirus Information to Immigrants

Many immigrant fanilies have settled in North Hill, Akron's international neighborhood. [Shane Wynn / Akron Stock]
Many immigrant fanilies have settled in North Hill, Akron's international neighborhood.

With new coronavirus information coming out daily — in some cases hourly — it’s tough to keep up and keep facts straight. But for the many immigrants living in the Greater Akron area, the challenge is real.

Greater Akron is home to about 35,000 immigrants from all world. Organizations are working to distribute coronavirus information in multiple languages.

Akron resident Sudan Rai and his friend, Arjun Lama, produce Indrawoti Creations, a YouTube channel designed for Akron’s Nepali community. They recently interviewed Nepali Dr. Elina Shakya.

“Basically what we focus on is how to be safe No. 1 and No. 2 what is coronavirus,” Rai said. “And how they need to contact their health care provider if they see some kind of symptoms.”

The men aren’t compensated for making the videos. Their YouTube channel is named in honor of Rai’s mother, an unpaid social worker who for more than 18 years spoke out for refugees living in camps in Nepal, Rai said. She resettled in United States in 2009.

Akron is home to about 35,000 immigrants from all over the world. That’s according to the New American Economy, a national research and advocacy group.

Locally, a handful of organizations are working to distribute coronavirus information to the immigrant community.

The North Akron Community Development Corp. is one of them. It operates the Exchange House, a resource that provides healthcare, education and recreation. Exchange House Director Katie Beck is using an Akron Community Foundation grant to enlist the help of some young tech-savvy immigrants who are considered leaders in their communities.

“They’re old enough to speak multiple languages so a lot of times they’re translating documents that come in the mail, or they go to doctors’ appointments and translate there,” Beck said.

Videos in five different languages are in the works, Beck said, and with additional funding, more could be created.

“I have a Bhutanese Nepali rep, and the Karen community, which is an ethnic minority of Myanmar,” she said. “I have a Spanish speaker, a Swahili speaker leading a Congolese group, and a Pashta speaker, which is an Afghani community.”

Refugees come to Akron because it’s a federally recognized resettlement community. Madhu Sharma is the executive director of the International Institute of Akron, which oversees resettlement services.

The institute and other resettlement agencies across the nation are translating and sharing documents issued by the Centers for Disease Control.

“Our focus is actually picking up where government leaves off, and it’s always been that at IIA,” she said. “But right now it’s unusual. Because we’re not healthcare providers.”

Communication is essential right now for Akron’s immigrants, Beck said.  

“A lot of them don’t have formal education,” she said. “A lot of them came from an agricultural background, so they didn’t learn how to read and write. If we can create these videos that are more visual and audio based, then the information should be spread a lot faster.”

Project Learn of Summit County focuses on adult literacy. Tim Bailey heads up instruction for about 200 students in the agency’s English as a Second Language program. Many families have children at home now that schools are closed.

“My worry is that some of them are so busy trying to take care of their families that they’re just not connecting to the information,” he said. “So they may or may not be aware of what is happening or where we’re at now or what needs to be done.”

Naresh Subba holds a doctorate in nuclear physics, but he’s better known as a community convener. He and his brother, Srijang Subba, own Family Groceries, a popular gathering place in North Hill.

“It’s quite a crowded place in the normal times," he said. “Actually out of 10 people who come in there probably like only a couple of them are shopping. I mean we can’t tell them anything because that’s our culture you know, having fun.”    

People aren’t gathering at the store now, Subba said, but information is getting out.  

“Customers came in big numbers, and they just emptied my entire supply of rice,” he said. “Hoarding, I guess, is the right word.” 

Like people born in America, immigrants want up-to-date information.

Rai’s day job is working in IT for the Akron Public Schools. In addition to producing the video about the virus in Nepali, he’s also put together a how-to video to help Akron students continue their classes remotely.

He says officials need to share new information about coronavirus as they get it with non-English speakers.  

“This is the time to try their best to reach out to the community,” he said. “Keep them informed about this virus to try and stop this spread.”

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