The Silver Lining – Education brings hope during a refugee crisis

There is a lot of despair and pain radiating from the refugee camps in and around the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Physical pain from disease and injury, coupled with a lack of food, are constant issues for the Rohingya refugees in the camps. The mental anguish is much greater. Loss of family to violence, loss of homes and crops, and an ongoing feeling of degradation and violation of rights – this anguish lives with every refugee, every day.

And yet, while walking through camps, meeting with responders and activists throughout Cox’s Bazar, there was also a thin yet constant thread of hope. Would it be possible, now that the refugees are relatively safe, in camps run by Bangladesh and the international community, to truly educate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children, giving them a future they could not have previously imagined?

Educating an illiterate population

The new influx of more than 600,000 refugees to Bangladesh includes a large number of school-age children. According to Save the Children over 60 percent of the new refugees are children. These numbers could increase as even more refugees are expected to cross the border by the end of the year. UNICEF estimates that more than 450,000 Rohingya children aged 4-18 years old are in need of education services. That includes those who have been in the camps for longer periods [source: Reliefweb].

Evidence indicates that a very large number of the children, as well as the adults, are illiterate. In fact, in a rapid survey conducted by the TWB team in October with Rohingya refugees, 73 percent of respondents self-reported to be illiterate. This illiteracy is limiting the children’s ability to be further educated and to demand their human rights.

Evidence also indicates that when education is made available, literacy rates increase. In fact, in the study TWB completed last month, it was clear that refugees who have been in Bangladesh longer show higher levels of literacy than those who had more recently-arrived.  While not easy to obtain, education is more readily available in the established camps than it was in Myanmar where twin restrictions against movement between villages and education above primary level severely limited access to education. When our team tested populations who have been in Cox’s Bazar since prior to August 2017, comprehension rates improved across the board.

Now, with hundreds of thousands of children together in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, is this an opportunity to offer them education and a future?

Unfortunately, though, the language of instruction will be unfamiliar to the Rohingya children. Currently, a number of organizations are looking to set up learning centers in the camps. The goal is to give the refugee children at least two hours of education a day, beginning in January. Yet the official curriculum that the government of Bangladesh has approved does not include mother tongue education, and the teachers who are being hired will teach in Bangla and Burmese, two languages that the children do not read or speak.

Why mother tongue education matters

A wealth of experience and evidence over the last 50 years has proven that children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue language. We also know that countries do better when their children are educated well. Evidence from a project that Save the Children has implemented in Thailand focusing on mother tongue education for Rohingya children, shows that learning a second language, English or Thai, is difficult when children do not understand the language of instruction. This undermines children’s ability to participate and invest in their education, despite their motivation [source: Save the Children].

But the issues with mother tongue education for the Rohingya children are deeper, because their mother tongue, Rohingya Zuban, is largely oral. The illiterate community speaks it fluently but does not generally have a means for written communication, through their mother tongue. Interesting work is already being done to establish a written form of Rohingya Zuban. A script was developed decades ago, and has been taught within the established camps and throughout areas of Bangladesh and Malaysia. The teaching is generally ‘under the radar’ of even informal education centers, and the materials used are handwritten, as unicoding of the language, is not complete. But even so, there is a major desire among the children and adults in the established camps to learn the written form; estimates put the number who have learned some of it at 10,000. Even more encouraging is the excitement generated among the students when they do have the opportunity to learn it – there is a true sense of the empowerment and identity that learning to read their own language gives them.

This initial mother tongue education work is unknown to most international agencies setting up learning centers, and its potential is unexplored. TWB is working with these agencies, as well as local organizations, international organizations specializing in mother tongue education and hopefully, the Bangladesh government, to include mother tongue tools in the curriculum. Teaching aids in Rohingya Zuban, mobile and online tools in unicoded Rohingya Zuban, and printed Rohingya Zuban early readers would all make a difference.


Now, back home and separated from the daily grind of the response by miles and time, I have reflected on that seed of hope that is education, and started to figure out how TWB can contribute to its growth. I believe TWB can make the greatest impact, by including mother tongue teaching and learning aids into the education programs being developed for Rohingya children.

The Rohingya refugee crisis offers the potential to educate hundreds of thousands of illiterate children, eager to learn, in their mother tongue. I hope we can make it happen.

Please follow this link to support TWB’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis

Rebecca PetrasBy Rebecca Petras, Deputy Director and Head of Innovation at Translators without Borders.

Putting language on the map in Nigeria

Without data on the languages of affected people, humanitarian organizations are ill-equipped to communicate with them effectively. In May of this year, Translators without Borders (TWB) started trying to better understand what data is available regarding the language preferences of populations affected by humanitarian crises. The short answer is that there isn’t much. In September 2017 we published a report highlighting the major gaps in data regarding what languages migrants and refugees arriving in Europe speak. The report also describes the difficulties organizations have in providing information in the appropriate languages. Around the same time, we began a similar research initiative in Nigeria.

In June 2017, TWB worked with the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix team to add language -related questions to their ongoing data collection efforts with internally displaced people in four conflict-affected states in north east Nigeria: Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, and Borno. This was the first time any routine language data collection had been done in the current response. There are over 500 languages spoken in Nigeria, making it one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. For humanitarian organizations working in the north east, this diversity of language is an incredible challenge. Organizations report difficulties in knowing what language pairs they should recruit interpreters in, in designing communication materials that use the most appropriate languages, or in understanding what formats are most effective. One of the main reasons for these difficulties is that they do not know what languages their intended audience speaks, or to what extent they understand various lingua francas such as Hausa. As one NGO staff member in Maiduguri explained, “In a focus group discussion, we may hear that somebody only speaks Marghi, but then we have no way to respond to them.”

IOM’s DTM team gathered input from key community members to identify sites where language was a major barrier to effective aid delivery.

Following this, we worked with a team at Map Action who designed a web map to help visualize some of these geospatial patterns and trends. We combined this map with qualitative and quantitative comprehension research that we conducted in partnership with Oxfam and Girl Effect. The combined findings gave a clearer picture of the language landscape for humanitarian responders. We have summarized the findings in an interactive storymap - see below or click here for a full-screen version

By Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager at Translators without Borders.

Bot Towan! #InterpretersMatter

Today was a bit grueling. We went to interview people who have newly arrived at Balukhali makeshift camp about cyclones and cyclone preparations. We did that, and in the process confirmed what I already knew: specific skills are needed to act as a translator or interpreter in a crisis. After today, I am more convinced than ever that language services - translating, interpreting, simplification and training - are an essential part of this crisis response. TWB has a vital role to play here

TWB's first Rohingya interpreter

Our very first semi-trained Rohingya interpreter accompanied me and the two co-leads of the Communicating with Communities Working Group (CWC WG) to run a focus group discussion with ‘model mothers’ (women trained by UNICEF to help people in the community with basic needs), and to interview various members of the community – young, old, and leaders. The day was hot and long, but manageable. What was difficult was talking about cyclones to traumatized people, many of whom told of horrible stories and cried as they recalled what they left behind. The threat of cyclone damage is very real in the camps, especially with the makeshift shelters, but on a sunny day with no wind, it felt trite when set against the horror of gunshot wounds, burnt homes and lost family.

Rohingya interpreter at work on Cox's Bazar
TWB's first Rohingya interpreter interpreting at a focus group discussion with ‘model mothers.’

Yet Rafique, the first Rohingya interpreter who has received some training, handled it all very well. Rafique is a long-term resident of Cox’s Bazar. He is Rohingya by birth, born in Myanmar, and very committed to helping the new arrivals. For years he has run the Rohingya Youth Association, an unofficial group in Cox’s Bazar that teaches long-term Rohingya camp residents some basic skills, especially reading and writing English and Bangla (the children in the camps are not officially allowed to go to school). A number of the kids whom he and his team have taught have gone on to universities around the world, and many of them will help us with our language work from afar.

Training Rohingya interpreters in Cox's Bazar

Rohingya is Rafique’s mother tongue. He had done some ad hoc interpreting for various journalists in town, but he had never been trained. Like many unskilled interpreters, he made classic mistakes. He summarized a person’s long explanation in just a few words, and he very often editorialized what the person said – adding his own explanation. He also would not always properly understand what the English person asked him to do, nodding that he understood when he actually was not quite sure.

Training interpreters like Rafique is one of Translators without Borders’ major goals in Cox’s Bazar. While locals will say that the new arrivals understand Chittagong, the local Bangla dialect, just fine, we keep finding that that is not the case, especially in areas of health. Today we found that is also not the case in simple explanations about cyclones.

Prior to going to the field, I worked with Rafique over several evenings, giving him basic training on how to interpret. We worked with videos of new arrivals talking about their harrowing trips to Bangladesh. He practiced interpreting their explanations, working on the full meaning, but only the meaning – not his additional thoughts. We also discussed the ethics of interpreting and did some basic work on how to operate in a humanitarian context, including how to speak directly to the person being interviewed and how to work with the international staff.

I also worked with the two international team members about the interpreter relationship. While humanitarians who work in the field intuitively know that the interpreter is a vital link that has the power to help the situation greatly, they are often under a lot of stress, working long hours, and possibly unaware of how to ‘get the most’ out of the interpreter relationship and role. This particular situation was a good place to start because the two CWC WG co-leaders are communicators themselves, so they were engaged and willing to learn, focusing on changing their instructions to accommodate the interpreter, asking him to work with the interviewee to give information in small chunks, and encouraging him to sit at the same level as the interviewee to build trust and engagement. The final preparation included giving Rafique all of the field questions in English and Bangla before the interviews. It is surprising how often those working with interpreters do not educate them beforehand on what they will be talking about. Rafique reviewed all of the questions ahead of time so he could practice in his head how to interpret to the interviewee and then could focus during the interview on providing the information back to the interviewer.

Rafique did a fabulous job. He worked really hard all day, as a team with the interviewers. There was very little misunderstanding, and when once or twice Rafique started to add information, I reminded him that that was no longer ‘interpreting’. He quickly corrected himself.

Why words matter

The real reward came toward the end of the day. Sitting around on a mat with the model mothers, we began discussing the Rohingya words for ‘cyclone.’ In helping the CWC WG evaluate best communications about cyclones, I want to make sure that communications are truly understood by the new arrivals, especially those who are illiterate (9 out of 10 of the model mothers were illiterate and did not understand basic Bangla or Burmese). In the back of my mind, I kept thinking about the miscommunications in the Philippines prior to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The English language radio stations reported a ‘big wave’ coming; to the Tagalog listeners, this did not seem threatening because it was not called ‘typhoon’ – as a result, many did not leave their homes and were lost once the storm hit.

Rafique asked the model mothers what a ‘big storm with wind and lots of rain’ would be in Rohingya, and they sang out, simultaneously, ‘BOT TOWAN!’, while a very large, stormy cyclone would be ‘boyar awla towan,’ and a lesser storm would be ‘towan.’ In Bangla, a cyclone is ‘tofan,’ which is not far from ‘towan.’ But a very large stormy cyclone is ‘boro dhoroner tofan’, which is significantly different.

Even more importantly, in Bangla, the word ‘Jhor’ denotes a storm with wind and is often used for a cyclone. In Rohingya, ‘jhor’ only means rain without being a real storm and without wind. Similar to the Philippines in 2013, that simple misunderstanding, if broadcast from Bangla weather and warning systems, could be the difference of life and death, especially in camps where word of mouth is the main mode of communication, and winds will blow off roofs and drop shallow-rooted trees.

Words matter. I am very proud of Rafique – it was particularly gratifying when the model mothers, through the one woman who could speak some English, told me that he was the best interpreter with whom they had worked. I think it had a lot to do with him being Rohingya and really listening to how they communicate. I am looking forward to more trainings in the coming days.


Follow the TWB team's journey as they respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis - TWB's most challenging response yet.

Rebecca PetrasBy Rebecca Petras, TWB's Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

Taking action in the Rohingya crisis: TWB’s biggest language challenge yet

It is somewhere between 9pm and midnight, depending on where exactly my flight is right now. My rubber boots, rain gear, and TWB T-shirts are stowed in the hold; I am enjoying my second film. In a few short hours, we will arrive in Bangladesh, and the work will begin.

39,000 feet above the Earth, language is not an issue. International flight attendants and travelers basically speak the same language. We all understand ‘chicken with rice’ or ‘coffee or tea’ in the few international languages needed…English, German, French, maybe some occasional Arabic. And it is easy, seat back, chatting with seat mates with wildly different backgrounds, to feel comforted by the connection those few common languages bring us.

It is exactly that feeling – that connection and comfort – that language often gives us. I have lived for years in places where the native tongue was not my own: I know the sense of warmth when someone makes the effort to speak my language. Nelson Mandela had it right when he commented on the power of language: “Speak to a man in his language, and it goes to his heart.”

When in crisis, language does even more...

It helps on a very fundamental level, giving people in crisis the basic information they need to be safe, warm and fed. Yet millions of people, especially those who are refugees in foreign lands, must cross a language barrier every time they need basic information. They rely on others for the information they need, hoping that it is accurate and true, because they simply do not understand the language of those trying to help, or they are illiterate and cannot read whatever directive is provided.

How often I wonder how I would handle such a situation. I know that when I get important information in the language of the country where I currently live, the time to understand and then respond is at least doubled – the effort required is so much more. And that is when I’m sitting at my desk, well fed and not fearful for my life or that of my children.

The clear inequity of information that holds billions of people back is what motivates me. It is why I work hard with my colleagues every day to build an organization that uses language to jump over barriers. And it is what has motivated me to go to Bangladesh to set up language provision for the aid organizations trying to help the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in the past six weeks.

Tomorrow I will be in Cox’s Bazar, a place I didn’t know existed until a few short weeks ago. I have a singular goal: To use language to bring a bit of comfort and help to those who have suffered too much already.

Language matters: I hope you will share this journey with me.


why TWB is responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis

Over 700,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh (in and around the beach town of Cox’s Bazar) in the past two months, many of them entire families - families broken by violence. This is a complex political and humanitarian crisis, and one of the most difficult language contexts TWB has ever experienced.

The Rohingya population is highly vulnerable, having fled conflict and living in extremely difficult conditions. When we launched this response remotely in September, the goal was to find Rohingya translators to translate urgent materials that would help give practical but vital information to the thousands of refugees flooding across the border into a land where they did not speak the language. However, it became immediately apparent that there was very little translation capacity in Rohingya and, furthermore, that we would need to get audio and spoken Rohingya support because very few people write this language, and illiteracy levels are high. It was also too challenging to try to do this work remotely. Yet no situation we have encountered is more in need of our resources.

So we took a chance without solid funding and decided to activate Plan B, sending Rebecca to Bangladesh to try to get something set up to respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis. She will be in the country for four weeks, bringing together a community of translators and figuring out how best to enable them to provide the language link between responders and vulnerable people. She will also be working with aid organizations to ensure that language solutions are funded.  She will be joined by Eric DeLuca, TWB's Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager, who will conduct a comprehension study in some of the numerous camps, to assess the best ways to communicate with those who are affected by this crisis.

We will be following the team as they document their journey in Cox’s Bazar to set up this response for Communicating with Communities, and we'll be providing regular updates on how they are progressing over the coming weeks.

Rebecca PetrasRebecca Petras, TWB Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

At Translators without Borders (TWB), we believe that language is an important demonstration of culture. As an organization, we encourage and celebrate cultural diversity. In fact, the TWB team comes from 17 different countries and speaks a total of 24 languages.* That is an average of 3.5 languages per person!(3.5 each on average).

Diversity Day Diversity at TWB
The TWB team is scattered around the globe

About Diversity Day

After the adoption of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in November 2001, 21 May was proclaimed World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (also known as Diversity Day) by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Each year, on 21 May we endeavour to widen our understanding of the value of cultural diversity and to understand the role that it plays in peace, stability and development.

* Data collected internally in TWB between 03/02/2017 and 05/02/2017. Total number of participant: 24. 

The TWB translator community survey results are out!

Translators without Borders (TWB) recently carried out a survey of our translator community. The survey received 168 responses, and it gave some valuable insights into the experiences of volunteer translators and what motivates them as a community.

We have highlighted here five of the most interesting findings from the survey.

1. our translators are mostly motivated by helping others.

An overwhelming majority (97%) of translators said they volunteer because they like helping others and contributing to a good cause.

While career development, increased professional visibility, and interesting projects were also mentioned as some of the benefits of volunteering with TWB, our volunteer community is primarily driven by the desire to help people in need and work for humanitarian causes.

“Recognition is always nice. However, I really don’t need any more incentives. I’m motivated by something which has nothing to do with rewards.”

2. our translators are embracing technology.

Nearly 40% of respondents have had the opportunity to work on Kató, the new and improved  TWB translation platform that enables online collaboration and allows translators to use translation memory and glossary tools.

Most of our translators are familiar with Computer-Assisted Translation tools and use them in their work. This has produced some discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of translation technology.

According to our translators, the top advantages of doing work on an online platform are:

  • better quality and consistency
  • easier collaboration and sharing
  • the use of translation memory and glossaries
  • better translation workflow
survey of translator community
The advantages of Computer-Assisted Translation tools according to TWB volunteers

Some of the downsides include translators’ preference to use their own tools while working, specific technical requirements (such as using a particular browser for translation), and the need to have online connectivity to do work.

Generally TWB translators are open to trying new tools and approaches in their work and have also been very generous with providing suggestions and feedback on these tools.

3. our translators are open to collaboration on projects.

Translation is often seen as a solitary endeavor, although modern technology may be changing that. In fact, many of our volunteers expressed interest in online collaboration, citing the following reasons as the top advantages of working together as translators:

survey of translator community
The top advantages of online collaboration

4. TWB volunteers care DEEPLY about translation quality.

Many of the responses from our translators focused on ensuring good translation quality, whether through proofreading, feedback, or consistency checks.

This shows that our translators care a lot about the quality of their work and are proactively looking to improve it. In fact, over half of our translators said that receiving translation feedback and corrections from colleagues is important to them.

We recognize that comments from colleagues are particularly valuable to translators. Not only can this be a good source of specific, positive feedback (“Please keep doing what you’re doing, it’s great!”), but it also provides opportunities for growth and improvement (“Here is what you can do even better”).

We are looking for ways to provide regular feedback to our translators and will be sure to incorporate the suggestions of our volunteers about quality and collaboration into our new initiatives.

5. We heard your feedback!

Many of our translators said they appreciate recognition for their work, be it a word of thanks from the partners, visibility of how their translations are benefiting others, or, occasionally, acknowledgment in the form of recommendations or endorsements.

Recognizing this, we encourage our non-profit partners to leave feedback for translators as much as possible, and we are also looking for other ways to recognize the efforts of our volunteer translators, such as through translator appreciation initiatives and by featuring translators in our Volunteer Profiles on the TWB website.

We will continue using the feedback from this survey as we develop our translator community initiatives. It is important to us that our translators feel engaged and appreciated, and that they see Translators without Borders as a source of meaningful, interesting work.

Please stay tuned for more updates about our volunteer translator community. If you are a translator, we would encourage you to join our TWB Translator Volunteers Facebook private group, and if you would like to give us specific feedback or ask a question, you can always write to translators@translatorswithoutborders.org.

Until next time!


Apply here to become a TWB volunteer

Marina KhoninaBy Marina Khonina, Translation Quality and Community Manager

 

MultiLingual – Getting Creative with CSR

“When all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Raising awareness is crucial for non-profit organizations seeking to inspire social conscious about important issues, and to encourage volunteering and sponsorship. Key to this inspiration is the impact of their digital presence, yet non-profits do not always have sufficient in-house technical expertise necessary to maximize the potential of digital marketing tools. Fortunately, Translators without Borders (TWB) has a powerful asset in this respect. Idaho-based MultiLingual Computing, Inc. not only hosts and supports the technical aspects of the TWB website, but it also manages TWB’s email accounts, a critical tool in the organization’s daily operations.

Donna Parrish
Donna Parrish

MultiLingual Computing is a leading information source for the localization, internationalization and translation industry, and an enthusiastic and like-minded supporter of TWB. Its print magazine, MultiLingual, reaches subscribers in 92 countries, and it also publishes a free, bi-weekly e-newsletter. Editor-in-chief and publisher Donna Parrish ensures that Translators without Borders is visible in both publications. Most recently, MultiLingual ran two complimentary full-page ads for TWB in the magazine, and an advert in the newsletter.

MultiLingual – TWB Gold Sponsor

MultiLingual’s contributions go even further. The company recently became a TWB Gold Sponsor, donating US$5,000 to strengthen the capacity and operations of the organization. Donna is also a member of the TWB board and brings 25 years of programming experience and an in-depth appreciation of the technical issues involved in dealing with different languages. Donna promotes TWB through her role as Principal of LocWorld, the leading conference for the global business of translation, localization, and global website management. Translators without Borders is invited to the conference each year, and a booth is provided – an invaluable donation that fosters TWB’s outreach and fundraising efforts.

Donna points out that fundraising for TWB and other good causes can also be a lot of fun:

For last year’s LocWorld conference in Dublin, KantanMT invited us to help organize a coastal treasure hunt and hike to raise funds for TWB. It was great fun made even more so with beautiful views, tasty snacks, and enjoyable camaraderie. Best of all, the event raised US$6,500 for TWB! Participants loved it and were rewarded for their efforts with a pub supper and traditional Irish music.

This year we’re holding the June 2017 conference in Barcelona, and of course, TWB will be there. Barcelona is always a draw for attendees from all over the world. We hope they learn many things, including how important the work of TWB is.”

Another creative fundraising idea from MultiLingual was during the holiday period last year. Magazine readers who donated US$100 or more to TWB were offered a free annual digital subscription!

Partners in Synergy

Multilingual Team

Social media is a valuable tool TWB uses to raise awareness of the importance of access to vital information in the right languages. Donna and her team at MultiLingual regularly engage with TWB on social media to help amplify those messages to reach a broader audience. Donna explains:

Translators without Borders is often seen as the non-profit arm of the localization industry, the moral compass. What it does for people in need with the support of its sponsors, elevates the industry and the translation profession. That is good for everyone in the industry.

Our partnership with TWB also benefits from the focus on reciprocity. While we support TWB in any way we can, TWB does its best to give visibility to MultiLingual whenever possible using its fast expanding social media presence and its website. This is the “give-back” to us, and we value it highly.

Our partnership with Translators without Borders dates back to 2010 when Lori Thicke asked me to join the board, which I did with pleasure. Why? Someone at MultiLingual put it succinctly: when all is said and done, and we look back at our lives, we can say ‘We did this.’”

Blog AuthorBy Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer writer 

 

The language(s) of vulnerability

Language is bound up with power: we all know that from our own experience.

If you can express yourself in the right way for your audience, you can open doors and gain access to opportunities that would otherwise be closed to you. And that’s in your own language – imagine trying in someone else’s.

In many countries, speakers of minority languages who aren’t fluent in the official national language are at a structural disadvantage. Not only in their capacity to influence people in authority, but because the geographical region or ethnic group they belong to is less prosperous or powerful. And it is in marginalized, impoverished regions and among marginalized, impoverished sections of the population that conflicts are most likely to arise and disasters cut most deeply.

When the fighting starts, who is unable to get away in time?

When the rains fail or the floods come, whose crops are lost? Often those who are poorer, less educated, less well connected.

To ensure they are hearing from and communicating with the most vulnerable people in an emergency, humanitarians need to know which languages those people speak and understand. They need to be able to call on trained translators and interpreters working with those languages – languages where often the pool of trained linguists is small at best. They need information on literacy, existing information channels and access to mobile phones and the internet in order to determine the options open to them for relaying information and receiving feedback from communities.

Above all, perhaps, they need an awareness that language can be a factor of vulnerability – and knowledge that there are tools available to aid communication.

Translators without Borders is scaling up its support to communities and aid workers in humanitarian emergencies, with support from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) backed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To find out more, read my blog on the HIF website:

Language, Power and Aid Effectiveness – Journey To Scale

The full article is also available in:

Français Kiswahili Español العربية

By Ellie Kemp, Translators without Borders Head of Crisis Response

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 

How To: Use your personal experience for a good cause

Majed Abo dan knows what life is like as a refugee. His story is the story of how personal experience can be used for a good cause.
Majed and his family arrived on Chios island in Greece on 20 March 2016, a day after the EU-Turkey deal took effect. They had traveled as refugees from their home in Aleppo, Syria, seeking safety and security in Europe.

Majed‘s arrival in Greece was chaotic and confusing, especially as people tried to interpret and apply the conditions of the new deal. “The Greek authorities detained us in Vial Camp. There was little information available for us about our legal rights; everything was a total mess,” he recalls.

While on Chios island, Majed showed his compassion for fellow-refugees. He worked with the Norwegian Refugee Council as a food security assistant. “It was the most perfect experience in my life, and it was an honor for me to work with such a respectable NGO.”

In total, Majed and his family lived in Greece for nine months, on the islands of Chios and Leros and later in Athens. He and his family recently arrived in Mainz, Germany, where they plan to settle. He is very happy to be living in Germany, a country that has fascinated him since he was a little boy, describing it as “a dream come true.”

from experience to a good cause

Throughout their time as refugees, Majed was frustrated by the lack of clear information and the abundance of unreliable rumors. He decided to find some answers for himself. “I found a website called News That Moves, which seemed to provide good and true news. I decided to be a part of that team, to help myself and other refugees to find some facts.”

News That Moves is a source of verified information for refugees. It is produced by Internews and translated into three languages by Translators without Borders’ Rapid Response Team (RRT). Majed is now a productive member of the RRT, translating and editing articles almost daily. He is particularly proud to have translated an article on how refugees can obtain a passport or a travel document in Greece. He knows from his own experience how valuable the information in that article is to refugees, and how essential it is to translate it into languages they understand.

“You have to know that information comes from trusted sources, to avoid inaccurate information and rumors”

There have been times when Majed has heard someone relaying information that he or an RRT colleague has translated. When that happens, he confesses, “I feel proud from the deepest part of my heart.” He is convinced that non-governmental organizations, volunteers, and local citizens make a tangible difference in refugees’ lives, noting that “Without them, we would not survive.”

want to volunteer?

Do you want to use your skills for a good cause? Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Majed has some expert advice for anyone thinking of joining the RRT. “Anyone who would like to join us should feel the crisis in their heart and understand the circumstances that led to it. Put yourself in the same position as the victims – then you can translate with your heart not just your words.”

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer