Volunteer Health Interpreter Organization (VHIO) at UC Berkeley



Volunteer Health Interpreter Organization was founded at UC Berkeley by students that saw the need for language interpretation in the diverse population of the bay area. In 2012, I co-founded the Khmer Language Department in the hopes of providing a service to meet the language needs of Oakland’s Cambodian Community in health settings. We did not interpret in hospital settings since they are mandated to have professional interpreters available.


  • According to the 2010 US Census, there are about 8,500 Cambodians living in the SF/Oakland/Fremont area, and about 43% of the population being limited English Proficient (US Census Community Survey 2009)Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 6.21.39 PM
  • There weren’t many services that had interpreters readily available
  • Many Cambodian Americans believed there weren’t services to begin with and relied on broken English or family members
  • Not many Cambodian Americans were enrolled at UC Berkeley, and very few spoke Khmer
  • Students only available during select hours of business hours






  • Created partnerships at Asian Community Mental Health Services and curriculum for future Berkeley students fluent in Khmer to interpret in various health settings based on California Health Interpreter Association (CHIA) standards
  • Interpreted in 4 health fairs,  4 community events, and in 1 community clinic for Non-English speaking Cambodians in the 2012-2013 academic year
  • Despite the small number of Khmer speaking college students, grew program from 2 to 5 interpreters

Lessons Learned:

  • Seek a partnership with a community organization that sees a high volume of Khmer speaking clients
  • Understand challenges of the past and seek to address them given limited funding and resources of college students
  • Emphasize the interpreters’ responsibility to maintain patient privacy to build rapport with community members

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