Dealing with COVID-19 here in Iowa is hard enough, but imagine doing so if English wasn’t your first language.

A coalition of 30 refugee advocacy groups and community organizations is serving tens of thousands of Iowans during the pandemic. They’re running a telephone hotline and posting video news updates in ten languages.

Victoria Wah, of the group EMBARC, is one of the people staffing the hotline. “When they call me, I try to encourage them to stay home,” Wah says. “And then if they have a problem with breathing or some serious condition, I encourage them to call 911 so they can get help.” EMBARC stands for Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center.

According to EMBARC, the hotline has helped more than eight-thousand people while the online videos have reached more than 26,000 viewers. Wah says she helps people in a range of areas, including filing for unemployment, making medical appointments and getting direct food assistance.

“I tell them no go to store,” Wah says. “If they need anything, the EMBARC will come and deliver food and some cleaning supplies for them.” Without more support from state and local agencies, translating up-to-date information on the virus has largely fallen to non-profits and refugee community members. In addition to facing language and cultural barriers, many refugees in Iowa work in manufacturing or food production, potentially putting them at even greater risk for catching the virus.

(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio)