Translators help refugees obtain driver’s licenses

Volunteer helps translate a driver's permit test

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – A new pilot program just launched in southwest Kansas for refugees and immigrants. It’s meant to help them get a driver’s license by removing the language barrier that many face.

When Najah Abdi took her permit test without a translator, she got 14 questions wrong and failed.

“It’s like if I was to come up to you and start speaking Swahili to you,” said Ifrah Ahmed, a volunteer translator. “You wouldn’t understand what I’m saying, right? Now, the only thing we are going to do is translate.”

Ahmed was also a refugee and understands what a license means.

“It gives them that sense of belonging that they do belong here,” she said. “’Yes, I feel like I do belong in Kansas, because I have my Kansas ID, I have my Kansas driver’s license. This could be my new home. That’s what we want, is for people to feel like they’re welcome here.”

The program was launched by Kearny County Hospital. CEO Ben Anderson said an ID is crucial to living a healthy life.

“Really you need a form of identification primarily a driver’s license to do so,” he said. “And so if well-screened translators can remove a barrier to health for people, we feel like that’s consistent with our mission.”

Officials with the Kansas Department of Revenue were quick to support the initiative.

“I was super excited, because it’s something that I’ve always been wanting to do, at least with our knowledge testing,” said Breana Berroth with the department. “There are several states surrounding Kansas that have other languages already in their knowledge-testing system.”

While Abdi did significantly better with a translator, she fell short, but she’s not discouraged.

“She feels very confident with it that she’s going to be able to get her driver’s license,” said Ahmed, translating for her.

With a translator, Abdi got six questions wrong — just one away from passing. She said she’ll study tonight and be back tomorrow morning with Ahmed to try again.

Residents who need a translator are encouraged to contact Kearny County Hospital to make arrangements for themselves or a friend.

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