By DANAE KING The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With her feet planted in two worlds — that of a local immigrant community and of the journalism realm she has recently joined — Saideepika Rayala was able to see a problem in the way immigrants get their news.
And she was uniquely positioned to solve the problem.
The 17-year-old wanted immigrant communities in central Ohio to be able to get local news that they could understand, in their native languages, so she created an email newsletter called The Columbus Civic.
Each month, Rayala, a senior at Olentangy Liberty High School near Powell, gathers news that she thinks would be of interest or relevant to immigrants living in central Ohio, and she works with a team of translators and editors to tell the stories in three languages: Telugu, Tamil and French.
“I hope because of this newsletter, immigrant and refugee people can say they feel more connected to a city,” she said. “I hope they feel they have more of a voice and they’re included.”
Rayala first noticed that her parents, who emigrated from India and speak Telugu, a south Indian language, were getting their news only from Indian news sources.
“I thought it might be because of the cultural and language barrier,” she said. “I really wanted to break down that barrier.”
She also teaches citizenship classes as a volunteer at US Together, a local refugee-resettlement agency, and noticed that some of the immigrants and refugees she worked with lacked access to news of any kind.
“My freshman year of journalism (class), I remember talking about the importance of local news to democracy,” said Rayala, who is also the editor of her high school’s student publication. “There were these gaps where pockets of the community weren’t engaged in civic issues here.
“I thought those kind of gaps were harming how our community works.”
Access to local news is important for immigrants and refugees because it can help people understand how they can get involved and how what’s going on in the community might affect their families, communities and them, said Nadia Kasvin, co-founder and director of US Together.
“It allows people to break through some of their initial cocoon they might build around themselves and … become part of the bigger community,” Kasvin said.
In May 2018, Rayala found people she knew in the community who could translate what she wrote into Telugu. Her first issue came out in August 2018; it was a special edition about the November 2018 midterm elections, Rayala said.
Satish Batchu, 39, of Dublin, reads and appreciates the newsletter, which he heard about from friends. Originally from India, Batchu speaks English and Hindi but appreciates getting news in his native language, Telugu, he said.
“This is helping us to be in touch and in the know,” Batchu said.
He added that he appreciates how Rayala goes into detail in her stories and includes national news, such as the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and what that means, and the history of impeachment in the country.
“She’s made it simpler for people who do speak my mother tongue,” Batchu said.
Since launching the newsletter, Rayala has added versions in Tamil, another Indian language, and French. She’s also doing a radio show at 4:30 p.m. each Friday on WCRM (102.1 FM) as part of The Columbus Civic and is working to expand into video.
The teenager supervises about a dozen volunteer editors and translators while gathering the news herself. She also often adds context for her audience because newcomers to this country might not understand some things about how life works here.
She hopes that someone else at her high school might continue the publication after she graduates in May, and she thinks it might be cool to start another version in the city where she ends up attending college.
The newsletter has about 300 subscribers, and Rayala is working to expand it to other languages, including Spanish, Somali and Nepali.
“Before, journalism and my immigrant community, they would seem like two different worlds,” Rayala said. “They’ve come together.”
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com