Why I Volunteer with RILA

By Quauhtli Olivieri Herrera

Volunteering isn’t always easy, but I’ve come to realize that when you are volunteering for a great cause and an opportunity that makes your heart sing, those skills and that time you are investing into other people turns around and blesses you. This has been my experience volunteering as an interpreter at the RILA clinics on Wednesday nights.

I always come to the RILA clinics straight from work and, I won’t lie, I am often really tired. Sometimes, in the minutes leading up to the appointments with the clients, I catch myself still checking work email or thinking about my project’s tasks that still need to get done. However, once things get rolling, once I meet the client, once I start connecting everyone’s thoughts and words through my interpreting, everything changes. This is exactly what happened at the last RILA clinic, where I was incredibly blessed, and it is a reoccurring experience every time I get the chance to volunteer with RILA.

On this last particular occasion, we had a very busy appointment, with a lot of questions for the client, and a lot of details to clarify in their asylum application. Additionally, I was working with fellow volunteers that I had never met before, so that always presents new dynamics to learn and adapt to. The clinic ended up being a particularly busy night, but when I got home that evening, it hit me that serving that client that evening would likely be the highlight of my week. I simply couldn’t shake off the blessing and power of visibly seeing progress in the client’s case and witnessing with my own eyes the reaction that I saw in the clients’ faces when they know they are being understood, listened to, respected, and treated with dignity.

As part of my full-time, 8am to 5pm job, I work on projects related to criminal justice, policing, and Department of Justice policy and programming. However, a lot of what I do often feels like a “sky-high perspective” of the world and I hardly ever get the opportunity to work with the people that are in dire need of access to our justice system. Even when I know that my full-time work does impact lives and serves people, the effect is far from the hands-on, in-the-moment impact that I know my volunteering brings at the RILA clinics.

As an interpreter at RILA, every word, sentence, question, and statement I am translating has an instant direct benefit on the client. As I mentioned, sometimes, you can see – and almost feel – the positive reactions and expressions on the client’s faces when they know that their story and that their accounts are being properly and adequately depicted in their applications. Of course, not every case is a “legal success.” Nevertheless, I hope that even in those cases where clients are not granted asylum or another form of immigration relief, that at the very least, the clients can feel and know that they are loved and that they have value and dignity, even if everything that have experienced in life prior to that moment wants to point in the opposite direction.

In conclusion, I volunteer at RILA because through my service, in the few hours I can invest into the clinics once or twice a month, lives are impacted, dignity is affirmed, justice is pursued, love abounds, and maybe, just maybe, souls are transformed.

Emily Williams