Beyond translation: Maysa’s far-reaching contribution

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experience and skills and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

This month’s featured translator works in two of the most widespread languages in the world: English is an official language across 59 countries, while Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in 26 countries. Arabic and its many varieties are the mother tongue of 310 million people in the Arab world, parts of Latin America, and Western Europe.

Maysa Orabi

For Maysa, joining TWB made sense: “I rushed to submit my application. I realized that I could finally give a helping hand using what I do best and love the most: translation.”

Maysa Orabi is an invaluable member of the TWB community thanks to her enviable translation skills. By translating into two of TWB’s most common language pairs, English to Arabic and Arabic to English she directly impacts the lives of many. Not only has Maysa translated more than 100,000 words for TWB, but she has also reviewed almost 200 translation tests as a trusted quality reviewer. This enables TWB to recruit new translators, build our language community, and maintain high translation quality.

Telling Human Stories

It was only after joining TWB that Maysa came to realize the magnitude of what she was giving. Maysa is interested in human nature, and our desire for communication and understanding of our world. Yet often, that understanding is only possible thanks to our access to knowledge in a language we understand – and not everyone has that advantage.

Maysa has a deep desire to understand the world, and the hardships faced by many. But she is especially invested in the stories of people living through difficult times. She wants to help them tell their stories:

“They want to have a voice and they need to know they are being heard.”

Translators have chosen to help amplify the voices of others, so Maysa says that translators must be diligent and put their heart and soul into what they translate. With this in mind, she guides the translators she works with whenever she revises their work. Over the last three years, she has reviewed the quality of an additional 50,000 words of translation tests on top of her own translation tasks.

Ferry to Athens,
“Because your words are as important as a warm blanket for a poor child on a cold night.” Maysa Orabi. Photo by Karim Ani.

“As a Jordanian and an Arab, not to mention a human, I was shaken by the events the Arab world witnessed in recent years. I wanted to be present and helpful in any way possible. When vulnerable, displaced, and deprived people cry for help, their suffering is doubled if they cannot communicate with those who want to help them. I want to know there is something I can do.” Maysa Orabi.

And so, Maysa decided to put her efforts, knowledge, and experience into translating for TWB, to prove that language matters.

Still learning

Maysa explains that TWB has given her the chance to gain and develop her skills fast. Her projects remain in the back of her mind while she is working on other translations, and they occupy much of her spare time. The extra experience in translation and lessons in efficiency have honed her professional abilities.

The projects she handles for TWB have also developed her awareness of the world. In particular, she has worked on medical content for Wikipedia and articles for Internews. Those Internews articles touched on the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece and other European countries. They showed her the difficulties faced by people trying to settle in a safe place: tumultuous legal procedures and regulations, uncertain futures, separation from family, an inability to work, and limited access to a proper residence. Her work involved translating questions and concerns, in which she learned of the troubled, inescapable realities of so many people. Maysa describes how those communications revealed the urgency of the situation for many, and the hard time the world is having to contain the ravages of wars.

“A traveler I am, and a navigator, and every day I discover a new region within my soul.” Khalil Gibran

The translating and reviewing work that Maysa does is enormous: it deals with big languages, big issues, and makes a big difference. But its effect is immediate, even life-changing, on a personal level. Individuals and families have been given access to vital information that they might not have had, thanks to Maysa and our community of TWB translators.

“TWB has increased my love for translation and my sense of the significance of what I do; that I translate for a cause.” Maysa Orabi.

Click here to join TWB’s community of translators.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email translators@translatorswithoutborders.org.

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Maysa Orabi, Kató translator for TWB. 

What you didn’t know about languages that matter in the European refugee crisis

In April 2017, Translators without Borders carried out a study to analyze what might be causing the language and communication barriers that exist in the context of the ongoing humanitarian migration crisis in Greece. A striking feature of this crisis is the wide range of languages and ethnicities involved. Approximately 95 percent of the refugees and migrants who arrived in Greece in 2015 and 2016 came from seven countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Algeria. They represent the diversity of ethnic groups in those countries and speak an array of languages and dialects.

Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Kurmanji, and Sorani speaking migrants were interviewed about how they access important information such as where to access medical care and asylum procedures. 88 per cent of respondents said that they preferred to receive information in their mother tongue. However, humanitarian aid workers are not always fully equipped to deal with the language complexities that characterize this crisis. Following the research, it was clear that humanitarian workers didn’t always know what languages they were serving, and didn’t always know which languages could be understood by whom. Knowledge of the languages spoken by migrants from different countries can present a major obstacle to the effectiveness of their work and hence, the effectiveness of the response.

Translators without Borders has created detailed language fact sheets to be used as a resource by aid workers in Greece with information on Arabic, Dari and Farsi, and Kurdish dialects – the languages spoken by the majority of refugees and migrants in Greece.  

Thanks to the help of TWB translators, the language sheets are now available as free resources in English, Greek, and Italian on the TWB website.

Cover image by Karim Kai Ani.

test your knowledge

How much do you know about the languages spoken by the refugee population in Greece? 

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What is the written form of Arabic called?

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What is the official language of Iran?

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Dari and Farsi are very different when written down, but very similar when spoken

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Amiyya, or spoken Arabic, is the same in every country where it is used

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Where is Sorani spoken?

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Know the languages of refugees and migrants in Greece
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Take a look at the TWB language factsheets to learn more about Arabic, Farsi, Dari and the Kurdish dialects.

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Arabic Factsheet           Dari and Farsi Factsheet           Kurdish Factsheet

 


 

About TWB Words of Relief

Translators without Borders started responding to the European refugee crisis in 2015, providing much-needed language services such as the rapid translation of content for partners working in the response; training for humanitarians, translators and interpreters (professional and aspiring); setting up a language working group; establishing a humanitarian interpreter roster; and, conducting research on language and comprehension. TWB’s Words of Relief service continues to operate in Greece today. For more information and to volunteer or donate, please visit the TWB website or follow us on Twitter at @TranslatorsWB and Facebook

Language: One of the major obstacles faced by refugees

Tunisian researcher, Mayssa Allani insists that a cooperative approach is required when dealing with the refugee crisis in Europe. She believes that countries around the world should be united in helping refugees overcome the trauma of the war. In order to help, it is necessary to overcome one of the major obstacles faced by refugees: language.

While studying at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece Mayssa taught Arabic to European volunteers in the refugee camps so that they could communicate better with those affected by the crisis. She was shocked by the misery and sadness she found in the camps. “As a volunteer, it was sometimes very hard for me to hide my tears, and to maintain a strong face. Saying goodbye at the end of the day was so emotional,” she remembers, “the little kids were clinging to me.”

LAnguage is one of the major obstacles

But this gave her an opportunity to learn about the refugee crisis first-hand. She gained a better understanding of the humanitarian sector and was impressed by the commitment of volunteers from many different countries. She realized that language is one of the major obstacles faced by refugees.

“Language is one of the major obstacles faced by refugees. It hinders refugees trying to voice their concerns, interact and communicate with others”

In such situations, translation is essential to overcome language obstacles and to ensure effective communication, because refugees need to have access to information and news in a language they understand.

Her experience in the camps led Mayssa to volunteer with Translators without Borders (TWB). Now living back in Tunisia, she helps refugees remotely by translating from English to Arabic for the TWB Arabic Rapid Response Team. Volunteering for TWB keeps her abreast of the changing conditions at the camp and helps her feel connected to the situation. “I am happy to be part of a group of dedicated translators,” Mayssa says. “It has been a rewarding experience to provide a rapid, high-quality translation.”

Her daily activities for the RRT include translating and editing articles to help refugees get access to vital information in their language. She translates instructions about asylum-seeking registrations and procedures, and important news items. With access to clear, up-to-date information, refugees are empowered.

Refugees deserve better support, education, and care so as to lead a peaceful life and to forget about the destructive war they have experienced,” she says. “Kids should be sent to school as soon as possible and given special care. I would like to go back to the refugee camps to help the people further and to put a smile on the kids’ faces.”

Mayssa majored in English language and literature and has experience in translation with national and international organizations. She is a strong advocate for human rights and an active volunteer for several non-profit organizations.

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

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

Changing the world while sitting on your sofa

Changing the world through language

Listen to Translator without Borders Executive Director, Aimee Ansari talk about changing the world through language at TedxYouth@Bath in November 2016.

“I believe that… I have to help”

Alaa Amro is Palestinian. She has grown up among Palestinian refugees and the aid workers that support and help them.* Alaa has a deep empathy for people displaced by conflict and is strongly driven to support them.

Joining TWB

In 2016, Alaa came across the Translators without Borders (TWB) website, where she learned that she could develop her skills through volunteering. So she became a member of TWB’s European refugee crisis Rapid Response Team (RRT), translating and editing articles from English into Arabic.

As a linguist, Alaa understands that communication barriers add to the chaos faced by displaced people. “Most of the refugees who are coming from Syria speak Arabic language and [few of them] know English.” Alaa believes that having information in a language they understand is essential to refugees, empowering them to feel more in control of their own future.

At any time of day there are a lot of articles that need to be translated,” says Alaa, “and I have free time to help.” She has translated articles about the refugee crisis from international media outlets, in addition to practical information such as weather reports and directions to key locations.

remote translation platform

TWB’s remote translation platform is a useful tool for her as a translator. “It is easy to work with the RRT because I can do the translations directly [online].” So although Alaa lives far from the European refugees she is helping, she can still support them.  The most satisfying translations, she says, have been the Rumors” responses which TWB translates on behalf of partner Internews. This involves translating objective, informed responses to rumors that aid workers hear during their daily activities on the migration route. Internews publishes and distributes responses in several languages. Correcting misconceptions and providing accurate information for refugees is an important part of reassuring them and reducing the stress that they suffer. Alaa also translates local, European and international media articles into Arabic, giving refugees access to a wider range of news and opinions.

“A lot of refugees panic because they have been displaced so it is very important for them to understand directions to places they need to go for help, the weather forecast and other practical information”

I have to help

Alaa hopes that the translations she contributes can help to reduce that sense of panic by providing practical information in a language familiar to the refugees.

I know that many people are helping refugees, and Translator without Borders gives me the chance to help too. Moreover, I am a Palestinian girl who is familiar with refugee suffering. I believe that… I have to help.”

Currently a sociology student at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, Alaa is trying to improve her language and translation skills so that she can participate in more youth activities promoting peace, human rights and tolerance of difference.

* Some five million Palestinians are registered to receive support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which operates 58 camps in the region.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

The written word can be the difference between hope and despair

Today Zahlé is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. They have fled the violence of civil war, and now they live in refugee camps and squalid accommodation throughout the city. For many refugees, the written word can be the difference between life and death, hope, and despair. They are desperate for information that will help them understand their options for creating a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing vital information

Zahlé is also home to Alain Alameddine, a volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB). As a translator, Alain understands, perhaps more than most people, that the written word can be particularly powerful and beautiful for refugees. As a member of the TWB Rapid Response Team, he works with aid agencies to translate content from English into Arabic on a weekly (and sometimes even daily) basis, to provide vital information to refugees in languages they can understand.

Most Syrian refugees only speak Arabic, and so they are often at a loss as to what to do with the information that is available to them, for the simple reason that it is in a language they do not understand,” he explains.

“A quick translation can make a huge difference”

In addition to Alain’s work as a translator, he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Through his voluntary ministry, he has brought a listening ear and words of comfort to refugees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. “We’ve noticed first-hand that a listening ear is no less important than food and shelter,” Alain says. He often shares the Old Testament words of Isaiah with refugees he visits, Alain quotes ’we are pained, God is pained’.

One of Alain’s most frequently shared Bible quotes is one written on the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations in New York. It refers to a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. We can only begin to imagine what those words mean to people who have fled violent conflict and persecution.

Giving new hope

In his work with refugees, Alain sees that words like these give refugees hope that things will change for the better. He has also gained new insights into himself and the world. “I am now more aware of the trials refugees face, the doubts and fears they might have, and the ways they can react to them,” he tells us. “As a translator, I am also now more aware of the importance of talking, writing and translating in a style that is easy to understand rather than using technical or pompous language.”

It seems that in Alain Alameddine, the city of Zahlé has produced yet another man who understands the power and beauty of the written word, and who is willing to use it to help people in need.

Are you a translator? Sign up to volunteer for the Translators without Borders Rapid Response team today.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer