As part of theVilCap-Start business accelerator, a collaboration with Social Enterprise @ Goizueta (at Emory University), Village Capital, Refugee Women’s Network, and the Clarkston Community Center, three business owners were selected by their peers to receive $10,000 loans for their business. CDF is sharing profiles of the winners.
International Languages and Cultural Service
Samia Erol’s son ruptured an eardrum just before his eight birthday and became hearing impaired. This unexpected event took her family by surprise, but Samia took it on herself to learn the ins and outs of interpretation, and support her son to the best of her ability. With time, the unexpected event set the seeds of what would become her new career as owner and founder of International Languages and Cultural Services.
She enrolled her son at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf and joined the school’s PTA, and began taking American Sign Language and interpretation courses offered at Georgia Perimeter College. On her own, she educated herself on how to best navigate the education system.
At the time, she was the top saleswoman at Old Navy. She was approached by a friend who works at Adopt a Family, an organization that works to combat human trafficking in the Atlanta area. Together they visited girls who were being trafficked, and gave them individualized homemade gifts with their names printed on them. She saw that the girls’ language barriers had made them vulnerable to exploitation.
“I thought to myself, ‘You know, I know these languages,’” she said. Samia speaks American Sign Language, Arabic, English, Hindi, Somali, Spanish and Urdu. “It was a get up and drive moment. I didn’t know at the time how to start an agency, but I knew I needed to do something.”
With the knowledge she acquired helping her son navigate the education system, she became determined to support vulnerable refugee families, who did not have the linguistic resources she did. She took sporadic interpretation jobs available to her from various nonprofits and agencies. They would call her when a family needed interpretation at a hospital or at the scene of a car accident. But she said these were limiting and too focused on the paycheck.
With time, as she came to understand the interpretation business, she realized that she could start her own. She and her husband Naim Erol together founded International Languages and Cultural Services, which provides interpretation services as well as mentoring.
Between them, she and her husband speak more than 10 languages, and they employ more than 60 interpreters, each of whom must speak a minimum of three languages. Samia said the VilCap program has helped them organize the various aspects of their business, and set a plan for growth in the future.
“I feel like we’re really making big progress,” she said. “If we continue on this path, we’ll sustain and we’ll be able to move mountains where people have given up,” she said.
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