Embracing Vanuatu’s Bislama Abroad: Ten Lessons Learnt from Preventing a Seven Year Prison Sentence.

It’s like the movie “Saving Private Ryan!”

Except there is no Private Ryan.

Between the judge, the defendants lawyer, the employer and my role as an interpreter, we saved a man from going into prison for seven years!

It was the defendant against the police.

The year of 2020 will go down in history being one of the most disruptive. It brought many lows. The pain and anxiety associated with major surges of mental health was huge. But for some it brought positive re-adjustments to lifestyle and their purposes in life.

The lockdown (NZ alert level 4) of 2020 during the covid 19 pandemic saw me walk home some days after testing on the front lines, admiring some of the beautiful murals in Dunedin, NZ. PC: Leina Isno

I am still at University participating in research being part of a randomised controlled trial focusing on social and health sciences. I remembered being part of the Pacific and Global Health Paper at University of Otago (2020) giving a lecture on my experiences being an International Front line worker. One of the concluding remarks I mentioned to the class of 2020 third year students was to learn a language.

“You will become a huge part of the current global market! You will also play and contribute to this dynamic global market. “

The year of 2020 has seen me on the front lines of covid 19 pandemic testing in New Zealand. PC: Leina Isno

The need to immerse yourself in a different culture is a must and to learn a different language in a rapidly changing world is a fantastic. The value of learning languages as research showed were extremely beneficial. It improved memory, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multi-task and better listening skills.

Alexandra Bridge over River Clutha, New Zealand. PC: Spirited Women

I have never envisioned myself standing in front of a New Zealand Judge as an Interpreter translating the English language to Bislama. Bislama is the national language of Vanuatu and I was helping to interpret for a Ni-Vanuatu man who was being sentenced from an altercation in the Alexandra District Court in Central Otago. It was the defendant against the Police.

Judge Emma Smith was compassionate and showed empathy despite the defendant being charged with seven accounts of law breakage.

As an interpreter, I learnt a lot.

Here, I shared some of my notable lessons from a first time experience being an interpreter in the justice system.

Lake Wanaka, Central Otago in New Zealand. PC: Leina Isno

One: The value of empathy combined with lifelong experience

Judge Emma Smith had a lot of empathy. She understood the context of the criminal offending being a tribal one and showed it. She made sure my role as an interpreter was effective and called for. She listened and understood the emotional toil the defendant went through.

Two: The Right to Being Treated Fairly despite being a Criminal

I reflected on the defendant having access to an interpreter to help him understand his rights and to have a background of what was happening. There are no resources like this in third world countries and especially in the Pacific. The defendant would have been jailed and serving maximum time in prison.

Three: A Good Defence Counsel

A counsel for the defence is the lawyer assisting the person who has been charged or accused in a criminal case. They provide professional advice and assistance and are usually paid by the public. Defence Counsel Bryony made sure that her client (defendant) understood what was happening and that stories were matched through me as an interpreter. She was able to provide the facts and make good judgement for the defendants character.

Four: The Value of Employers

You know a great employer when you see one after the first few conversations. They play an essential supportive and advocacy role in these workers welfare. The defendants employer had written a “glowing” report about the defendants’ strong work ethic in New Zealand. I was able to meet the defendants employer, observe his true values and his commitment to his employees.

Five: The Emotional Toil on the Defendant & Whanau

The stress of a current pandemic mixed with a crime abroad had it’s complications. The emotional toil and the mental stress of it all was undeniable. A young family including a 3 month old and a mother with Congestive Heart Failure desperate to hear good news on the other end of the phone that their loved one was not being sent to prison abroad was palpable.

Six: Effective Interpreting

The only way to have effective information is to remind those who are speaking to only speak one sentence at a time. There were multiple times where I had to ask for sentences to be repeated from the Judge. They were either too long, too fast with speech or had 2-3 big words that do not have a bislama meaning. For contextual meaning, sometimes it takes 2-3 sentences in bislama to explain in simple terms. I can say the same for any foreign language.

That is normal and ok.

Seven: The Power of Cultural and Tribal Reconciliation

Discovering that bail conditions were breached to be able to say sorry between two Vanuatu tribal groups. As an interpreter, it highlighted the traditional values I have always grown up with. The customs and traditions are deeply ingrained and it brought reassurance to face value.

Eight: The Consequences of One’s Actions

The nature of offences were serious! From threatening to kill to stabbing; wilful damages and injures intending to injure and reckless behaviour influenced by alcohol intoxication, the defendant had seven charges against him in total.

The maximum penalty for these charges was seven years in prison!

Nine: The Value of Networking on LinkedIn

Get paid for the value of your linguistic abilities. Do not be ashamed of listing these special skills on your CV online-the ability to translate and interpret in a different language. It goes a very long way and helps make a huge difference to someone’s life.

Ten: Find Humor in Stressful Circumstances

What an insight to sitting next to the 40 year old female in the Alexandra Court house awaiting charges after she drove a motorised chilly bin during the New Zealand pandemic lock down. I have never smiled so much seeing the humor in it all-it was a drunken joyride as she related. We must be so bored in Central Otago in New Zealand!

Only in Central Otago with it’s latest invention of a motorised chilly bin during the 2020 lock down. PC: Stuff News

Bonus Lesson

But the big story of the day was helping the defendant get a lighter sentence. He was convicted and discharged with intimidation charges, fined with $1500 for the injury charge, ordered to pay $183 for window damages and $130 for court fees.

How on earth did we escape 7 years of imprisonment for some very serious offences?

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