Non-Profit Breaks Language Barriers For Katrina Victims

A national non-profit organization is breaking down the language barriers keeping some immigrants from getting the post Katrina help they need. Boat People SOS uses case workers and interpreters to help people who limited English fill out paperwork.

The words were in her native tongue, so the information Thoung Thi Huynh needed wouldn't get lost in translation. She is one of hundreds of South Mississippi Vietnamese Katrina left homeless.

"A lot of people don't speak English," said Huynh. "The Vietnamese community has many people who speak English and are fluent in English. They can help others in the Vietnamese community."

At Boat People SOS, Vietnamese interpreters work with people who speak little to no English, and therefore are having trouble getting help after the hurricane.

Case manager Cathy Jourdan said, "Of course they're dealing with the same loss as everyone else, the homes, but it's a little more difficult for them."

Case workers say even if immigrants have fairly good English skills, the complicated paperwork can be overwhelming.

"I think they are intimidated when they get a stack of government forms or insurance forms and they're all in English," said Jourdan. "Even though they may read, write and speak English, they're not confident they understand it. We help them with any paperwork and linking them to any other resources in the community."

Helping the immigrant community recover from Hurricane Katrina is what drew Boat People SOS to Biloxi but don't expect the organization to leave once all the debris is picked up because they are here for the long haul.

"We're going to offer computer classes, ESL classes, citizenship programs because they're has been a lot of interest as people come through," said Jourdan.

Along with Biloxi, Boat People SOS also set up centers in Houston and New Orleans after the hurricane. There are also interpreters for Spanish speakers.