Voices From the Lab: Casa Marianella

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Casa MarianellaCasa Marianella opened its doors on January 6, 1986 to refugees fleeing war and persecution from Latin America.  An astounding 26 years later, Casa continues to serve people from all of Latin America, and have added those from Africa and Nepal to their list of clients. 

Natalia Portillo-Delgado works for Austin Free-Net as a trainer at Casa Marianella.  In her position there, she is engaged in the lives and successes of the people she teaches.  She helps the residents gain computer skills and much more.  One of the many enriching things Natalia teaches her clients how to do is create and solidify their resumes.

Casa residents are such an eclectic mix of people and customs, sometimes Natalia and her clients struggle to communicate effectively.  Occasionally, language and cultural differences can be a barrier.  However, Natalia and her clients see their differences as a resource, not a barrier.  They work together to create “translation bridges” that span the cultural and digital divide.

Recently, one Austin Free-Net client, Samuel*, was working with Natalia to improve his resume.  From a small war-torn country in Africa, Samuel spoke little English, but he had the desire to succeed in his new home country.  Natalia began explaining how U.S. businesses prefer to see detailed work histories and specific skill sets listed on resumes. This was a new concept to Samuel.

The message was lost.  The words simply were not there to communicate the concept adequately.

“Being unable to share important information with a friend is frustrating,” said Natalia. “You find yourself speaking the same misunderstood words, but slower and louder.”  She laughed and continued, “Neither of which helps; they still don’t understand what you’re trying to tell them.”

Luckily, two of Samuel’s friends and country-men noticed his dilemma and offered their assistance.

“His friends didn’t speak English very well either, but between the four of us, and the English we knew, we were able to converse.”  They came together to create the translation bridge.

The three men began having a discussion in their native language.  Hands and arms flailed and facial expressions became animated.

“Suddenly they stopped talking,” Natalia recalls.  “They all looked at me with determination, nodded and said ‘No?’ as if trying to get my agreement to their side of the discussion.  I must have had a completely blank look on my face, because Samuel said, ‘Oh, we forget you do not speak our language.’”

There was much laughter and several good-natured pats on the back as Samuel finished up his resume…in detail.

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For more information on Casa Marianella, visit their website at http://www.casamarienella.org/

*The name of the client has been changed. Austin Free-Net respects the privacy of all clients.

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