Making sense in difficult times

Volunteer Translator

Happy and carefree.

Two words many of us use to describe our childhood. Sadly, these aren’t universal descriptors of childhood. Children growing up in war-torn countries are more likely to recall early years filled with suffering and unhappiness. This is Najmeh Mojtahedpour’s experience.
Now Najmeh is using her background to help others. We spoke to her to learn more about her role as an online volunteer translator with Translators without Borders (TWB).

Najmeh tell us a little about your childhood

I was born in Esfahan, Iran in 1980. A week later, Iraqi forces invaded, leading to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. My childhood memories center on bombing and destruction. Sadly, I remember families devastated by hunger and death, homes reduced to rubble, and people living in fear and despair.

What prompted you to seek a volunteer role helping refugees?

My background has given me a strong sense of empathy for the refugees of the 21 st century. When I see those poor people stuck in other countries, I remember my own childhood and I understand how they feel. A three-year-old boy who drowned at sea when his family was fleeing war-torn Syria was my catalyst for change. The image of Ailan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach galvanized me into action. I was determined to find a way to help people like Ailan and his family.

How did you come to be a TWB volunteer?

Initially, I wanted to provide more hands-on aid, but as an Iranian citizen, there was no way I could travel to provide on-the-ground assistance. I shared my frustrations with a friend who was working with the Translators without Borders’ Rapid Response Team (RRT). My friend explained that the RRT is a virtual team of volunteer translators that provides translations for refugees so they have information in a language they understand. It didn’t take much to convince me that providing remote translation support was one way I could make a very real difference to the lives of refugees.

“I wish I could do more for them but for now, translation is the only thing I can do”

How do you balance work and volunteering?

One of the benefits of providing assistance online is that there is little disruption to my life. I’m based in Mashhad, Iran, and work in IT administration. By volunteering remotely, I can do my job and translate for TWB in my spare time.

Tell us a bit about what you do for TWB

I translate Rumours information sheets (prepared by TWB’s partner, Internews) into my native Farsi. This gives refugees clarity and certainty on issues that might otherwise be misrepresented through hearsay and misinformation. I also translate general media articles so that refugees have insight into relevant local media stories. Even something as simple as weather forecasts, can provide vital knowledge to refugees.

How would you describe your contribution?

I’m acutely aware of the need for accurate translation and how important it is to supply that. Having lived through a war, I can be frustrated by what I see as a lack of progress in the refugee crisis. The rational solutions to Europe’s refugee crisis have long been laid out. What is lacking is not a script, but its implementation. I need to frequently remind myself that what I’m doing is helping individuals through uncertain situations while they wait for the solutions to be enacted.

Language is essential to every aspect and interaction in our everyday lives so providing information in a language that refugees can readily understand is vital. We use language to inform people of what we feel, what we desire, and to question and understand the world around us. In a stressful situation, it’s especially important for refugees and migrants to have information available in their language, so they can make sense of the situation. My contribution ensures that refugees have access to information that makes their lives easier.

What advice would you give anyone interested in offering support?

I would advise anyone interested in offering assistance from a distance to focus on what they can do to help. Even though you are not working on-the-ground, you are actively contributing and playing an invaluable role during crisis response scenarios.

Would you like to join Najmeh as a rapid response volunteer?

Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

By Kate Murphy and Angela Eldering (www.scribinghand.com), Translators without Borders Volunteers

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