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NY Professor’s Multilingual COVID-19 Brochures Combat Misinformation

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Scientist and Professor Ana Lucia Fuentes of LaGuardia Community College, New York, has been working to provide reliable COVID-19 online brochures in a variety of languages to communities around the world.

Fuentes realized that many of her students struggled with their lessons due to the language barrier. Her initial project aimed to bridge this gap, having her students make brochures with abstracts of their work. Then, they gave a poster presentation in which they invited two members of their community or their family, finally translating the brochures into their native languages.

“I realized that it was the language. They were smart, they knew the stuff, it was just the language.” Fuentes explained to WNYT.

However, she quickly decided to switch up her course when the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City. Fuentes saw the potential to modify the project, making it an online brochure in several languages to break down the scientific jargon of COVID-19 for communities around the world.

“There’s so much misinformation. This would be a service,” she explained.

Translating Science Jargon Into Layman’s Terms

The online brochure is based on research from several reputable sources, such as peer-reviewed journals, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has become an important source of information for immigrants in the United States and their families overseas.

“Science is complicated and we have to make it more accessible,” Fuentes said. “This is why… I thought it would be a good thing for the students, and that it would be a contribution.”

The brochures, with the help of her students, have been translated into many languages, including Albanian, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Fuentes’ Students Became ‘Source of Strength’

Fuentes bravely persisted with the project, even after her husband passed away on March 25, 2020, due to complications from COVID-19. She continued even after her own experience with the coronavirus as well.

“I wasn’t going to drop my students, and I knew they were going through tons of really horrible stuff. I talked to some of them afterwards… and they really appreciated that.” she said.

She explained that her students were her source of strength, and she is driven by the knowledge that they expect her to be around.

According to VOA News, Fuentes also experienced struggling with the language barrier in her youth. Her father, Alberto Fuentes Mohr, was a political leader, economist, and diplomat in Guatemala. However, he was kidnapped in 1970 and killed in 1979. When she went into exile in Switzerland, she did not know how to speak French. As a result, she fell behind in class.

“It was an eye-opener in every way in terms of how I realize the struggle and the questioning of the ‘fairness’ of those of us who get the possibility of having an education,” she said.

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