Spanish translators aid storm alerts
Subheadline: Volunteers help spread word to community
A Ridgeland woman wanted to help her fellow citizens in Jasper County during Hurricane Irma and she was able to do so in a big way.
Nadia Paez saw a need within the Hispanic community for information in Spanish during the storm and she took action.
“Over the years, I had made a Facebook page to announce community events and happenings, trying to help the community during Hurricane Matthew, but I did not have any information to send out to the Hispanic population in Jasper County,” Paez said. “The only news I saw was in English and this time I wanted to help everyone.”
Paez reached out to Jasper County Emergency Services to see if she could help them reach the Hispanic community. Although she did not know the exact population in terms of numbers, she knew the need was immediate for important information.
“They told me they would love to have me help out, especially with social media, and television and radio information for the Hispanic population,” Paez said.
Paez said she knew of a police officer with the city of Beaufort who could assist them, as well as another Beaufort woman, Yajaira Uzcatezui, who could help translate during press conferences.
“I feel like we helped the Hispanic community just by communicating with them before the storm, and letting them know we were there to help them and provide information for them,” Uzcatezui said. “I did a lot of communicating through Facebook and posted information as soon as it was released by the Emergency Operations Center.”
Paez, seeking help with the first press conference from someone who knew the Hispanic community well, contacted Beaufort Police Officer Othoniel Hatchett to get the process underway. Once Hatchett received permission from his supervisors, he, Paez and Uzcatezui met with Jasper officials.
In an effort to ensure the Hispanic community it’s important to listen to information provided by the translators, Hatchett spoke during the first Jasper County Emergency Operations Center press conference about Hurricane Irma. Hatchett, born in the Dominican Republic, is the only officer with the Beaufort’s Police Department who speaks Spanish.
“I have known Nadia for a while and she calls me when things are going on within the community and this was a time when they needed to reach out to the Hispanic community in Jasper,” Hatchett said.
After the first press conference, Paez and Uzcatezui continued to work by providing storm updates to the Hispanic community in Jasper County and some calls that were also from Beaufort County. Uzcatezui was given a place to stay within the operations center. She was given a place to sleep in Jasper, being provided with Chief Russell Wells’ office as a working station and living quarters, while providing Spanish translations when press conferences were held.
“We wanted people to get the information, and big kudos to Nadia and her work,” she said. “I would like to help out again, but would like to see something more permanent, possibly for the Hispanic youth to show them what opportunities would be available to them and how they could also help their community.”
Paez did not stay at the EOC during the night, but, living in Ridgeland, she checked in and helped out as a volunteer, as did Hatchett and Uzcatezui.
Jasper County Fire-Rescue Public Information Officer Garrett Lucas said the county was glad to have the volunteers working with them.
“We knew there was a gap there between our English and Spanish speaking communities, but we were not sure how to bridge the gap because storms just happen at any time,” Lucas said. “Nadia approached us about helping out and we quickly responded that we could use the assistance. Nadia’s main role was to get the information out on social media, while Uzcatezui worked inside of the EOC along with us and would translate our press conferences. We also want to recognize the city of Beaufort for allowing Officer Hatchett to help out. We all worked together well.”