Sapporo is one of many cities in Japan in which a greater number of international citizens come to visit or live. The foreign population residing in Sapporo has recently increased due to people moving here for education, research, jobs, and international marriages. As of July 31, 2018, the number of international residents in Sapporo exceeded 12,000 among a total population of 1,960,000.
When international residents in Sapporo encounter sickness and injury, or pregnancy and delivery, they may need to visit a medical facility. In such cases, due to the language barrier, there may be hesitation in visiting a hospital, or when they do, they may not be able to understand instructions from the medical provider. There is a risk that international residents may receive inadequate medical care when they most need help.
With the purpose of supporting these people, a group of thirteen women started a volunteer organization called Sapporo English Medical Interpreters’ Group (SEMI) in April 2009. The members include a woman who worked as a medical interpreter in the US and who also serves as the head of the organization, two dentists, a pharmacist, a conference interpreter, an air traffic controller, and multiple English teachers, licensed guide interpreters, homemakers, and city volunteers.
SEMI was started with the goal of supporting international residents such as students and researchers when they visit hospitals and clinics. We have dispatched volunteer interpreters over 5,200 times between 2009 and 2019. Also, we witness first-hand the many problems the foreign residents in Sapporo face when it comes to the medical care that they receive. That is why we actively started to collaborate with Sapporo City and Sapporo International Communication Plaza to tackle the various problems they face. We have translated documents which we encountered while interpreting into English, and our services contributed to the improvement in the quality of medical visits for many international residents in Sapporo.
During the past nine years of operations, we recognized the need to become a formal non-profit organization to collaborate with public offices and hospitals. It is our mission to respond to requests from medical institutions and related organizations concerning their interpreting and translating services, in addition to meeting the demand from the international population who seek our services when they visit hospitals and health centers.
These are the reasons we sought to form a specified non-profit corporation which aims to contribute to the globalizing society by providing higher quality medical services for the international population in Sapporo and by building a better environment in the medical setting.
The process leading to the application
SEMI was formed in April 2009 to provide language support for international citizens when they visit medical providers and local health centers. We initially started by accompanying our clients as volunteers when they visited the hospitals and clinics in or around Sapporo. The number of requests for interpreters increased steadily year by year. The first year we sent interpreters 56 times, and in 2017 the number climbed to 689. We created our website and started to make pertinent medical information available in English since there was little English information provided by Sapporo city at the time, resulting in some finding our website from abroad and sending inquiries before even arriving in Sapporo.
We have also been holding maternal and childcare seminars for foreign families jointly with Sapporo International Communication Plaza every year since 2010. Since we witness the various problems that international citizens face related to health, we were able to collaborate with relevant departments and divisions, such as the Public Health Office, the International Relations Department of Sapporo city, and the Sapporo International Communication Plaza.
We made significant progress in the area of maternal and child healthcare by providing interpreters for the public health nurses’ home visits to first-time expectant mothers, and the new mothers with their newborn babies. We also made the English-Japanese version of children’s vaccination questionnaires and reports from parents regarding their children’s health for submission to nurseries. The Sapporo City Health Center, Sapporo Pediatrician Board, and Sapporo City Council for Nursery Physicians approved our translated documents as their official documents. These documents are now freely available for download on our website. Our members also served as leading and supporting lecturers at the Medical English Seminar hosted by Sapporo International Communication Plaza.
June 28, 2020
NPO SEMI Sapporo