Bilingual International Assistant Services is proud to announce Language Service Director Victoria Barmak’s election to the Refugee Congress, a national advocacy organization built and led by former refugees, asylum-seekers, and other vulnerable migrants to promote the well-being, integration, and dignity of all vulnerable migrants. Victoria has been involved with the RC for several years, and we are thrilled that she will be succeeding agency founder Julia Ostropolsky at that table as the organization grows.
Victoria came to the United States as a refugee from the Soviet Union in 1990. Her first memories in this country are a mix of stress and anxiety: a teenager, who had suddenly found herself in the role of her parents’ parent, she became her family’s sole link to the new society. With only limited English made, Victoria – like many other refugee youth –was thrust into the role of family advocate, a burdensome task that made her personal transition to her new life in St. Louis quite difficult.
These challenges, however, trained her to navigate cultural misunderstandings and creatively problem-solve. She prides herself on possessing the flexibility to navigate smoothly between cultures and being able to establish common ground with virtually anyone – skills that she attributes directly to her refugee experience. For the past several years, Victoria has led the Language Services Department at Bilingual International, overseeing administrative staff and a pool of contracted professional interpreters and translators. The position is integral to the agency’s multilingual service delivery model as well as the agency’s ability to bring in additional revenue to support critical programming.
Victoria’s motive for becoming a part of the Refugee Congress is quite personal. During the resettlement period, Victoria watched her father struggle to receive needed assistance due to his accent. When her father, undeterred, stood up for himself and refused to be dismissed due to his language proficiency or accent, Victoria realized the power of self-advocacy for refugees and immigrants. Lack of mastery of the English language does not imply a lack of intelligence or worth, something that recent arrivals to the US often fail to internalize. Now, as Missouri’s delegate to the Refugee Congress, Victoria looks forward to working with other dedicated individuals to empower new immigrants, refuges, and asylum seekers by providing them with the information, resources, and support for them to assert the rights afforded to them in their new country as well as their right to basic human dignity and equal treatment.