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International Institute Brings Coronavirus Awareness To St. Louis Foreign-Born

Provided | The International Institute of St. Louis

The International Institute of St. Louis is working to provide up-to-date information about the coronavirus to those who don’t speak English. 

The nonprofit, whose mission is to help immigrants and refugees, is sending out robocalls in several languages including Farsi, Arabic and Spanish, as well as providing translated documents and a list of resources on its website.

Anita Barker, vice president and director of education and training, said the calls explain how the coronavirus spreads and its symptoms. They also give information on the coronavirus hotlines and how to get an interpreter’s help if a person has symptoms.

Barker said many immigrants and refugees in the region are worried. 

“A lot of the clients we work with that we’ve been able to contact are scared,” she said. “They’re feeling isolated. They’re also expressing appreciation for having that kind of contact and feeling support even if they can’t be seen in person.”

Like schools and other groups, the institute has had to change how it provides services because of the pandemic. It has closed its doors to the public and had to move its after-school and adult programs to remote learning. 

“Some of the students that we work with have fewer than four years in formal education and are learning literacy skills,” Barker said. “That’s not something that you can easily teach online or over the phone. So what we’re trying to do to sort of bridge that gap is we’ve prepared learning packets; consider them as learning care packages that we’ve mailed.”

Barker said that’s especially hard for many of their clients, who often lack access to key technology like computers. But she said cellphones, Skype and WhatsApp have also helped close that gap. 

The institute is encouraging immigrants and refugees in the community to continue to reach out for support and help by calling the institute directly at (314) 773-9090.

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.