On December 13, 2018, thirteen Eritrean refugees living in Israel graduated from Interpreter and Cultural Broker Training, a project initiated by 2015-2017 Sauvé Fellow Maya Fennig and supported by the Sauvé Foundation.

The graduates have already begun work as interpreters and cultural brokers in Israel, and will be obtaining certificates acknowledging their additional skills built through the program. Over the last year, the graduates have engaged in a collaborative curriculum that blends translating Western models of social work and psycho-social support with traditional knowledge and community-based practices from the participants’ own communities. The aim is to increase participants’ ability to effectively translate, mediate and communicate with people from different cultures as well as increase their knowledge and skills in psycho-social assistance.

The idea for the project stems from 2015-2017 Fellow Maya Fennig’s work with this community, and was developed over the course of the residential Sauvé year. She collaborated with Fellow Rachel MacNeill to partner with the Israeli Ministry of Health and ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, to deliver the one-year training in interpretation and cultural mediation.

The aim of the project is to improve and increase access to social support services, which are desperately needed to strengthen community support, culturally-based interventions and resilience among the 35,000 asylum seekers from Sudan, Eritrea, and other nearby countries who have entered Israel via the Egyptian border. There are at least 7,000 documented cases of trafficking and torture during the dangerous passage through the Sinai desert. These events, combined with severe abuse and torture in their home country as well as constellation of stressors in Israel including detention, discrimination and poverty, means many of these migrants arrive need of significant mental health support.


With the successful graduation of thirteen participants, ASSAF will be looking at continuing to offer similar programs in the future. Fennig, who is now in Montreal completing her PhD in Social Work at McGill University, is working to establish a similar training for refugees in Montreal. The first stage, currently underway, is developing a needs assessment to better understand the needs of interpreters who are refugees themselves, to better adapt to the Quebec context. Several organizations, including McGill, University of Laval, SHERPA and the Centre of Expertise of the Well-being and Physical Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, have shown interest in the project.

Contact Maya to learn more: [email protected].