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Not lost in translation: BW Spanish service partnership conquers language barrier

The simple, heartfelt words of a child tangibly connect donors to the work of the COAR Peace Mission, a Cleveland-based nonprofit that provides foster care for children in El Salvador.

Language, however, was a barrier to that powerful communication until Spanish students at schools like Baldwin Wallace University stepped in to help bridge the gap, translating thousands of letters between orphaned children and their U.S. sponsors since 2009.

Rewards: heart and head

Elisa Fuentes ‘20, a BW acting BFA and Spanish double major, has translated more than 50 letters between foster children in El Salvador and their U.S. sponsors.Elisa Fuentes '20, a BW acting BFA and Spanish double major, earned much more than just internship credit for her work translating more than 50 letters from Spanish to English and vice versa.

"It's so rewarding knowing that I have a part in forming the relationships between the children and their sponsors, all while exercising and developing language skills to prepare me for a possible career in my Spanish major," she says.

Dr. Karen Barahona, assistant professor of Spanish, took over the BW-COAR collaboration in 2016 and created an innovative service-learning course that elevated student engagement with the organization and provided internship experiences.

After taking the course, Fuentes also translated Cleveland Department of Public Health materials designed for diabetes outreach to the local Hispanic community.

Cross-cultural connection

Dr. Karen Barahona, assistant professor of SpanishBarahona, who spent most of her formative years in Honduras, says BW students benefit from intercultural connections and service.

"There are immigrant Latin American communities all around us that offer the opportunity to positively change students' lives and create in them a sense of social awareness, problem solving and intercultural competency without having to leave the Cleveland area," says Barahona, who received the 2017-2018 BW Excellence in Community Engagement Faculty Award.

This spring, COAR recognized BW, Barahona and the student translators with a 2019 Saint Romero Solidarity Award. The organization honored BW and other area schools involved in the translation project for building "a bridge of solidarity between the COAR children and their sponsors."

Finding capacity to give

Fuentes, an active BW Honors Program student who serves in leadership roles for several campus organizations, says the COAR partnership removed her own perceived roadblocks to service.

"I didn't think I had the capacity for [volunteering] with how demanding my school schedule is. Translating, though, … can be done on my own time and anywhere I bring my laptop."

"My main goal is to perform for a living," she continues. "But during the times in which I don't have an acting job, I want to use my Spanish to get work in which I can interact with and be of help to the Latino community."

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