The UK activists creating multilingual coronavirus content

Volunteers translate key information in Punjabi, Romanes, Somali and Spanish, and support diaspora communities.

British ethnic minority communities
Saima Mohsin shares videos in Punjabi with more than 225,000 Twitter followers in the hope the message reaches those struggling to access key information about the coronavirus [Courtesy: Saima Mohsin]

London, United Kingdom – A large number of people who have contracted the coronavirus in the United Kingdom have ancestry in other regions, and according to research, many who have died since the start of the epidemic were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

While a nationwide campaign about the benefits of social distancing and proper hand-washing attempts to inform people how to limit the spread of the coronavirus, much of this information has been in English, meaning large sections of British society are unable to access important messaging and even services.

To get the message out, activists have been targeting communities and raising awareness.

The Roma Support group is among the organisations creating specific content, in Romanes.

Mihai, who works with the group, said its videos are a continuation of its post-Brexit work, advising members of the Roma minority on how to apply to the European Union settlement scheme.

“We started delivering information in a way that is accessible for people – so information is delivered in a language that people understand and in a format that people, despite literacy skills, can access,” he told Al Jazeera.

While government resources exist in a few languages, Romanes is not one of them.

Mihai said several charities have approached the group to share its clips.

“The message is more effective when it comes from someone in your community,” he said. 

British ethnic minority communities
Roma volunteers host shows in the Romanes language to share information about the coronavirus epidemic [Courtesy: Roma Support Group]

The British Somali Medical Association (BSMA), a voluntary non-profit organisation, was created for and by medics for mentoring and improving healthcare access to the Somali community.

As the Somali diaspora has been particularly badly affected by the virus, all hands went on deck to share information on preventative techniques. 

The impetus behind the group’s videos and webinars was to create resources in Somali “due to the clear lack of sufficient healthcare-related resources for the UK Somali community”, a BSMA spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

“Although written information has its place, ours is an oral tradition and audio or video information is still the most effective way of informing the community.” 

Community action has become stronger during the UK lockdown, the spokesperson said.

“A local Somali mosque in Leicester, for example, has come together to deliver food parcels to those in need.”

Meanwhile, some groups are pushing resources outward and fostering internationalist relationships.

British ethnic minority communities [FREE SIZE]
The British Somali Medical Association (BSMA) supports the diaspora community and other groups and individuals in need of support during the coronavirus epidemic in the UK [Courtesy BSMA]

The Apoyo Comunitario Sur de Londres collective supports Latin Americans in London and looks beyond the UK. It provides translation services and connects individuals to mutual aid groups. 

“We [have] started translating information about the virus,” said Rosa dos Ventos, a member of the group.

The group provides interpreting services over the phone for people struggling to communicate with their GPs.

It has also extended its translation services to help the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which supports Latin Americans in precarious jobs who have been made redundant or are being furloughed.

As migrant workers rely on public funds, some of which are harder to access in the current crisis, the collective has launched a hardship fund. 

“We came across families that could not pay for food and didn’t have access to public funds, or did but they were taking too long,’ said Rosa.

To raise money for communities in the Global South too, the collective is planning to host Zoom parties with paid tickets.

“It’s a global pandemic so the response has to be global,” she said.  

While the community-led groups involve a number of people, British Pakistani Saima Mohsin decided to create her own resources in Punjabi and post them on her Twitter feed, followed by more than 225,000 people.

“It’s not just about whether people understand English, but about truly getting the message across and acknowledging the diversity of our world,” she told Al Jazeera.

One of her videos is about the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus and who is most vulnerable, another is on prevention techniques such as hand-washing and social distancing in multi-generational households.

While her videos have been shared widely, Mohsin acknowledged that social media excludes people without internet access or those who do not use online tools.

“There’s a need to think outside the box. When calling my aunt in Pakistan instead of the ringtone I heard a PSA [public service announcement] about coronavirus. What a brilliant idea and so simple to get the message out.”

Source: Al Jazeera