In 1922 Charoula Samara’s grandparents fled their home country and arrived as refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. Charoula was born and raised on the same island that welcomed her grandparents. She grew up hearing about their perilous journey across the Aegean Sea, and how they arrived carrying little more than hope for a safer life. There are many similarities between her grandparents’ story and the stories of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have landed on Lesvos in the past two years.
Charoula was horrified to see such tragedy unfold on her own island, but she was inspired by the memory of her grandparents. She looked for ways she could help people who had been through a similar experience to her own family.
A Translators without Borders (TWB) post on social media gave Charoula the answer. The post called for volunteer translators to support the TWB European Refugee Response program. Having studied translation at the Ionian University on Corfu, Charoula knew she had found the right opportunity for her. Her English and Greek language skills would be valuable during the escalating crisis on Lesvos, and she could gain translation experience at the same time.
“As a junior translator, there are few opportunities to get involved in projects of the scale and significance of those managed by the TWB,” Charoula explains. She jumped at the chance to become involved. Her grandparents’ experience gave her an added incentive to make a difference.
Helping local people understand an unfamiliar and constantly changing situation.
The material she translates is varied, reflecting the complexity of the situation. On Lesvos, it has been important to make sure the local population has information in their own language too. Translating material between English and Greek, as Charoula has done, has helped local people understand an unfamiliar and constantly changing situation.
Language matters, because it gives people a clearer understanding of their position and their options.
Language empowers them to make informed decisions in times of uncertainty, when fear can dominate. Without accurate information, fear can quickly escalate to panic. Without volunteers like Charoula, TWB could not provide potentially life-saving information to people who are uncertain and afraid.
“Language defines us as humans, because it describes and explains the world around us,” Charoula observes. “When faced with the unknown, we need the situation explained to us in simple words to help us process it and act on it. When we cannot understand the language around us, we feel cut off from the world, unable to judge a situation or make informed decisions.”
The most satisfying translation she has been involved in with TWB was for an issue of In the Loop. It contained reactions from the refugees themselves, not from politicians or non-profit organizations. It gave the refugees their own voice, and provided a refreshing point of view for Charoula.
Charoula’s experience as a TWB volunteer has given her a greater understanding of the importance of those voices, and the value of providing hope. She recalls seeing two refugee girls playing in front of their tent, among hundreds of others, in the municipal garden of Mytilini. Their parents watched them lovingly. At first, that scene gave Charoula an intense feeling of helplessness.
“But then, that negative feeling was replaced by the positive power of hope; because there is nothing more innocent and hopeful than children playing without a care in the world, despite the hell they have been through.”
TWB, with the help of volunteers like Charoula, will continue to give hope to people in crisis. We’d love you to join us. Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.
By Kate Murphy, editor for Translators without Borders and volunteer writer