Had a very interesting experience today. The after school tutoring program that I volunteer at took the day off because of parent teacher conferences at the schools. Those of us who drive kids normally were asked instead to help parents get to their conferences. So I picked up the mom of a high schooler.
First, there was confusion about time…she got the school flyer that just said 9 to 7, but the coordinator didn’t tell her when I was coming to pick her up. I got there at 4 as I’d told the coordinator, fortunately in time to get there and do the conferences.
Turns out, she speaks zero English. Well, technically two words: “no English.” So it was a bit of pantomime to explain that I was just the driver, had no idea what she was saying, but that there would be a translator at the school.
Also, she can’t walk easily, has to use a walking stick. Really should have a wheelchair, but that wasn’t an option. So I had to help her into the building and over to the library where the administration of conferences was set up. And then I walked around asking people until we found the right translator.
Pretty rough so far, yeah? Sounds like typical government organization inefficiency. But here’s where it gets better. The lady in charge of coordinating non-English speaker conferences was amazing. Took charge, got the list of teachers pulled up, got the translator settled, found a comfortable place for the mom to sit and brought the teachers right to her.
The whole experience really brought home to me how difficult even simple things can be when you’re in a strange place, not knowing the language and not very mobile. And how much difference it can make to have just a few people helping out to get past the hurdles in the way.