By Sarah Bernardo
UC Berkeley student Anh-Thu Ho received a prestigious invitation to attend the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York City this September. As one of only 10 students invited to this gathering, she will be sharing ideas and discussing pressing global issues with hundreds of recognized leaders from the non-profit sector, government, and industry. Together, the meeting participants will propose commitments to change the world.
Ho is a Bioengineering major from Singapore with a long history of public service including a medical outreach mission to Indonesia and founding Paint It On, a community art project at Danang Cancer Hospital in Vietnam. Paint It On won the Big Ideas @ Berkeley Video Contest. At Cal, Ho was an active member of the Volunteer Health Interpreter Organization where she worked with patients as an English-Vietnamese interpreter.
Ho was recognized and invited to CGI for Ladon, the program she founded in early 2016. Ladon is a platform to crowdsource bilingual college students who are passionate about bridging language barriers for immigrant communities. A wide variety of clients such as social workers, medical service providers, teachers, and property managers of affordable housing estates can call Ladon’s number and be directly connected with Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Arabic language assistants. Ladon’s aim is to make social services more accessible for immigrants and other individuals with limited English proficiency.
The project won first place in the 2016 Social Challenge Lab at UC Berkeley. At the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University, a gathering of more than 1100 students hosted at UC Berkeley earlier this year, Ladon also won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge.
Ho is currently taking a gap year continuing work on Ladon while seeking an internship in the Bay Area’s entrepreneurship scene.
The Blum Center sat down with Ho to talk about Ladon and the upcoming CGI Annual Meeting.
Q: You have volunteered and served in different places around the world. What inspires you about public service?
My first motivation is to go out and meet people who come from different backgrounds. I talk to them to understand how the environment shapes their beliefs and actions. Another reason is that at all the events I have to gone to so far, I always get to meet very passionate people and each of them always has a story to tell. They are inspirations. Just meeting them builds my character and shapes me into who I want to become.
Q: Why is it so important to break down language barriers in social services?
I am Vietnamese, and I left Vietnam for Singapore when I was just 15. At the time my English was not good, so I experienced first-hand how it was like not being able to speak a language, not being able to understand what is going on around you, and not being able to express your thoughts and your emotions with the people in your new society. That experience helped me understand how language barriers can increase the risk of isolation and make people shy away from social services. From my experience working with a lot of organization and schools, I see for myself how vulnerable these communities are, and it motivates me to bring my project to the next level.
Q: What challenges did you experience when developing and launching Ladon?
First is the status quo and inertia. Language barriers have been here for a long time and to a certain extent people are content with it, so inertia is a really big barrier. Lots of people just accept the fact that they will not be understood by others [who do not speak their language.] They are not actively looking for a solution, but instead just accept the situation.
Q: What are your future plans or hopes for Ladon?
Our plan is to improve the language capacity of Ladon and have more members abroad. We also want to improve the quality of our services by continuing to work alongside our current partners while also reaching out to more organizations and communities. Right now, we have 25 language assistants at Ladon, but we have a recruitment drive coming up.
Ladon has language assistants for Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Arabic.
If you are bilingual and are passionate about serving immigrant communities, join us! Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org about getting involved with Ladon.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at the CGI Annual Meeting?
I am excited to meet awesome people. It’s always the people that inspire me and intrigue me. I met a lot of great commitment makers at CGI U, so I expect to meet even more inspirational and committed changemakers at CGI.