As a volunteer with the Language Bank in King County, Supriya Janarthanan brings a rare skill to her role: she speaks the South Indian languages Tamil and Telugu. Originally from Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu in India, Supriya enjoys volunteering with the Red Cross because it offers an opportunity to meet different people and learn about diverse cultures while also making a difference in the community.
So what does the Language Bank do? “People move to Seattle from all over the world, and many face challenges communicating,” Supriya explains. “They can call the Language Bank coordinator and ask for a translator, and the coordinator sends out a volunteer to help.” The program currently offers translation and interpretation for 54 languages.
Supriya had a chance to serve as a translator through the Language Bank when a three-year-old South Indian girl and her parents needed help communicating with a speech therapist. Supriya visited the girl’s home during therapy sessions and played an integral role in the process. But opportunities to translate these languages are few and far between.
“People from South India often don’t need a translator because many are good at speaking English,” she explains.
In addition to providing general office support for the Language Bank, Supriya does public outreach at community events, like the fundraiser held in Seattle’s Chinatown for victims of the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2012. While dancers performed traditional Chinese dragon dances in the streets, Supriya and other Red Cross volunteers spread the word about services available through the Language Bank.
Back in India, Supriya worked as a tutor and library teacher, and she hopes to pursue a teaching career in the U.S. She volunteers at an Eastside school during the week, and on weekends, she assists teachers at a Tamil school in Old Redmond Community Center, which brings in 200-300 students from surrounding communities.
“I love kids and would like to be with them and explore the education system here,” Supriya says. “I was brought up in India, where education culture is very different. I thought I should get experience in how this education system works.” She plans to begin a teacher training education course in September.
Supriya would like to volunteer in the field at a disaster if given the opportunity. For now, though, she’s happy in her role. “I’m proud to be part of the Red Cross. If any of my friends wanted to volunteer, I would definitely encourage them to try the Red Cross.”