BYU students provide interpretation at free volunteer-based Salt Lake clinic

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The Maliheh Free Clinic is an all volunteer-based clinic in Salt Lake City. (Maliheh Free Clinic)

Iranian immigrant Dr. Mansoor Emam was working in an emergency room when he realized that many patients who lived in poverty ended up in the ER with devastating hospital bills, because they couldn’t afford preventative medical care.

Emam knew he wanted to open a free clinic to help these people, but didn’t know how to obtain the money to do so. He then met Khosrow Semnani, a successful businessman and also an immigrant from Iran, who helped Emam buy a building and the equipment needed to open a clinic.

The Malileh Free Clinic, named after Semnani’s grandmother, started in 2005 and has since grown from just two volunteers to over 600, including medical providers, nurses, patient techs and interpreters. As the only clinic of its kind in Salt Lake City, volunteers provide free medical care to over 6,000 uninsured and low-income patients who are under or at 150% of the federal poverty level.

The clinic’s patient population represents 35 languages, and almost half of the patients are Hispanic, according to clinic statistics. More than 50 BYU student volunteers are helping break the language barrier by providing free Spanish interpretation at the clinic.

“They’re pretty much interested in anybody that speaks a foreign language. But Portuguese and Spanish are the most used,” said BYU molecular biology student and volunteer interpreter Mark Conley.

Conley started volunteering with the clinic at the beginning of this year, and goes in once a week for a four-hour shift. He said he was apprehensive at first because of his lack of medical Spanish terminology, but said the clinic provides volunteers with terminology sheets and two training sessions to get hands-on experience.

“I was nervous to start there, because I was like, ‘I don’t know any medical terminology. I just know gospel Spanish and conversational (Spanish).’ But it comes easier than you would think,” he said.

Conley said he enjoys interacting with so many people from different backgrounds.

“It just gives you perspective on life. I think nothing makes me more grateful than going into that clinic. If you’re having a bad day, just go into the clinic, and you’re like, ‘wow, there’s so many people I could help out,'” he said.

A volunteer works with a patient at the Maliheh Free Clinic. (Maliheh Free Clinic)

BYU engineering student Kacen Moody has volunteered at the clinic for four years. Moody said that because he’s an opportunist, he couldn’t turn down the chance to help when it came his way.

“It was a chance to get out and do something new, and part of it was speaking Spanish and part of it was feeling like I could contribute to what the clinic had to offer,” he said.

Moody said he typically goes to volunteer at the clinic once every other week, and even did an internship there one semester.

“It’s really fun to just spend time working with different people, to meet new people and to offer service in different capacities,” he added.

He noted he has more opportunities to help because of the way the clinic is structured.

“I’ve learned more over the course of the time that I volunteer there (that) there’s something unique about volunteer experiences like that, because everybody is a volunteer, so there’s a little bit more mutual understanding than in a normal hospital setting,” he said.

Volunteer coordinator Tammy Garfield has been at the clinic for seven years. She said one of the reasons she enjoys it is working with 30 or 40 volunteers daily.

“They all come in with a desire to help others and to make a difference, and I think they feel like this is some place they can do that,” she said. “Everybody is here because they want to be which makes it such a great experience.”

Garfield said the clinic is excited to be able to work more closely with BYU.

“We know that their students have a lot that the clinic and our patients can benefit from and we’re just excited to grow with them and hopefully give them a great volunteer experience,” she said.

Garfield said they are always looking for more volunteers. The clinic’s website has information on volunteer opportunities and an online application.

The Maliheh Free Clinic is located at 941 E. 3300 South, Salt Lake City.

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