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This article was originally published on April 26, 2022.

In honor of National Volunteer Month in April, Tahirih is shining a light on some of the incredible volunteers who help us support immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. (Check out our first Volunteer Spotlight Q&A with Paul Glist!)

Today we’re introducing you to Joanne Gouaux, another dedicated Tahirih volunteer. Read on to learn about how Joanne supports Tahirih, including by serving on the San Francisco Advisory Council, the need for culturally appropriate language services, and more. (Note: This interview has been lightly edited.)

How did you first hear about or get connected to Tahirih?

In 2018 I worked on a project with a small group of Arab women. The project’s goal was to leverage [the women’s] Arabic and English language competency to benefit the broader community and address the communication gap in social services that leads to health disparities for Arab women and families. The project also offered a way for this group to generate new connections, take a leadership role in the community, and earn additional income.

When I learned about Tahirih’s work, I reached out directly to Morgan Weibel [Executive Director, Tahirih San Francisco Bay Area] to explore ways to support client cases needing Arabic translation or interpretation. These types of pro bono partnerships directly serve individual immigrant survivors and help remove barriers that silence women and girls.

English as a second language can be a significant barrier to communication between the client and case leader. Sometimes vital legal documents like birth or marriage certificates need to be translated. Too many survivors struggle to “get by” with limited language skills, wrestling with the fear of being a burden, experiencing stigma and discrimination. Case managers must first understand the survivor’s story and experience to help match services.

I can share a little more about the importance of culturally appropriate language services. Working with an interpreter in a health care, legal, or social service setting can offer an enriching experience to tap into broader knowledge and perspectives. However, it may also result in a decreased sense of privacy. The shortage of Arabic women working as translators and interpreters means that children may inadvertently be tasked with the challenge of communicating on behalf of their parents and family members in health care settings, at schools, and in the community. It leads to pressure and stress on the child and family. It is often not culturally appropriate for men to serve as interpreters on sensitive topics for women. Other family members may step up to interpret, but those family members do not have a duty of confidentiality.

Other factors make it difficult for survivors to communicate their situation beyond the security and trust of a family member. Stigma related to social norms compounds family violence. For example, disclosure of abuse can trigger a stigma, leading to increased violence. Hence, survivors often suffer in silence, bearing the abuse without a safe person to trust or help stop the abuse. Society must have more Arabic women leading translation and interpretation services on behalf of women and girls to break the cycle.

What do you appreciate most about Tahirih’s work?

To turn hope into action and create personal change, we must be able to understand and be understood. Community resources and social protection agencies are often scarce and can be difficult to access for immigrant survivors. Geographic isolation from family and social isolation from the community can result from seeking help or divorce. These are complex issues Tahirih addresses.

I admire how Tahirih focuses on immigrant survivors as advocates in their own lives, families, and communities and honors their knowledge and lived experiences. I appreciate Tahirih’s principles, especially the dignity of the whole person, making space for everyone to contribute with the full range of their lived experiences. Tahirih’s survivor-center, trauma-informed care practices make it possible for survivors to feel more empowered to make decisions about their safety, healing, legal cases, and futures.

Why is supporting Tahirih as part of the San Francisco Advisory Council important to you?

Can one truly understand our collective ties to the community and our responsibilities without being involved locally? Tahirih’s Advisory Council illustrates the civic virtues necessary to create and sustain a healthy society. The Council is a way to preserve community values and principles.

American novelist Toni Morrison once said, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” I agree. Freedom is right and a responsibility. Those of us who enjoy our liberty and freedom have a responsibility to help others achieve their freedom too. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concisely summarized this sentiment when he said, “No one is free until we are all free.” The welfare of each of us is inextricably bound to the welfare of all.

Serving on Tahirih’s Advisory Council is an honor and part of my responsibility to uphold justice in our community. The opportunity to collaborate with fellow Council members and Tahirih leadership is rewarding. Being able to support community programs that protect human rights is a way to transform shared beliefs into action. The simple act of coming together to support and advance Tahirih’s mission benefits society as a whole. It satisfies my desire to contribute to the common good of our community. I also feel it is part of my social and civic obligation as a citizen.

We are living through an age of rapid change, innovation, and severe inequality. Inequality creates financial pressure and scarcity, which means ordinary citizens are less likely to look beyond their own families, friends, and economic interests. These factors further exacerbate the plight of individuals experiencing gender-based violence. It leaves people isolated while civic engagement and community participation decline. The Council provides a way for Tahirih’s supporters to work together for the common good and to strengthen the fabric of our communities.

Thank you to Joanne for taking the time to share her experience with Tahirih and some insight into the value of culturally appropriate language services. And of course, we are grateful for her commitment to her community, our society overall, and immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. Joanne and all of our volunteers keep us inspired with their commitment to making our world a safer, more just place. If you’re still considering whether to join us as a volunteer, we hope Joanne will inspire you to do so!