5 Top Tips: Volunteering for Busy People

Living in London, raising four children and working as an English to French freelance translator can get super busy!  I have always been highly aware that there are people on this earth who are in desperate need of help, so I am determined to contribute as a volunteer even if my personal and work commitments can be demanding. Having translated over six hundred thousand words for Translators without Borders in my spare time, I have picked up a few techniques to successful volunteering while juggling a busy schedule.

Here are my 5 top tips:

1. Consider your skills. When I realized that speaking two languages fluently could help other people improve their health and quality of life, I knew that volunteering as a translator was the most valuable skill I could offer.

2. Plan ahead. I plan my week so that I frequently have a few hours free for volunteer tasks. Setting aside an allocated time, helps volunteering become a routine as any other part of my schedule.

Calendar 3. Think of this as a learning opportunity. I usually translate medical, health, and IT focused texts, as I have a lot of experience of this from my work as a freelance translator. However, translating for a non-profit can be very different, making it an opportunity to learn and to develop your skills as a translator in thematic areas that are new to you.

4. Remember your motivation. Helping others has been my dream from a young age. Volunteering helps me to do that. Keep your motivation fresh in your mind, and you will always have time for volunteering.

5. Prioritize your commitment to volunteering. Volunteering for me is as important a part of my life as earning money or taking care of my family. We all manage to find time to watch a film or to play a game. If being a volunteer is important to you, then put it high on your list of priorities.

To sign up as a volunteer with Translators without Borders, click here.

Volunteer TranslatorBy Lamia Ishak, Translators without Borders volunteer translator

Lamia has been a TWB volunteer since 2013, and in that time, she has translated over 600,000 words for non-profit organizations.

Tickled by Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB

In the years I have been with Translators without Borders, I have witnessed and been involved in many exceptional fundraisers. On Our Bikes (by TextPartner) has always been a favorite, raising funds for our training efforts in Africa, and the Localization World hike organized by KantanMT in 2016 was a huge success. And then came Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB, created by Euro-Com, designed by Andrew Hickson and held at the Globalization and Localization Association’s GALA 2017 in Amsterdam. Its success was not just impressive, but also loads of fun.

Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB

The goal of Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB was to raise much-needed funds for Translators without Borders’ humanitarian work around the world. Translators without Borders (TWB) works to close critical language gaps that hinder humanitarian efforts worldwide by supporting the work of hundreds of organizations in the areas of crisis relief, health and education. TWB is a non-profit organization registered in the US and with an operations center in Kenya. It was founded in 1993 to provide volunteer translations to non-profit organizations. Funds from the fundraiser are used specifically to expand the community of translators supporting the effort, offer more training in more hard-to-source languages, and support the organization’s development of a more robust incentive program for the community.

Tattoo for TWB
TWB’s Executive Director, Aimee Ansari showing support for TWB at GALA 2017

The ingredients to a successful fundraiser

By all measures, Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB had all the right ingredients for a successful fundraiser. Andrew designed a fun event in which there were many ways to give: participants could simply buy an orange (the color of TWB and host-country, the Netherlands!) wristband to wear during the event, or have a beautiful braid put into his or her hair, as was done by closing keynote speaker, Istvan Lenygel. But there were so many other ways as well, including getting hair colored, getting henna tattoos and, for the facial-hair group, shaving of the beard. Andrew spearheaded an awareness campaign before the event to get people committed to various activities and cleverly promoted those who had committed ahead of time on a simple yet elegant website for the fundraiser.

Feathers for TWB   

That pre-work would have made the event successful unto itself. But it was the excitement that it generated during the event that truly put it over the top, starting with the opening announcement from GALA Board Chair, Jesper Sandberg, that if half of the conference participants contributed with a wristband or more, he would, in fact, get his hair colored. That was enough to get everyone to the Euro-Com table for a donation!

Waxing for TWB
Joseph mentally prepares himself

Then there was Joseph Kubovsky of Memsource. Clean shaven, he had committed to wax his legs in order to participate. But the ‘buzz’ about his smooth legs was not enough – he then allowed anyone who donated to rip the wax paper from his legs as he grimaced.  To top it off, he then had a tattoo placed on the back of his baby soft legs. Brilliant.

And then it was time for trimming. Five men and all their hairy glory, took center stage as professional trimmers shaved off all their hard-earned facial hair. It was all captured on Facebook Live! As one remarked: “Eighteen   years gone – but it is all for a good cause!

Trim, Tint or Tattoo for TWB was a great success. It has raised more than $4,000 and is poised to add to that number at EUATC in Berlin this week. But more importantly, it brought the community together to celebrate translation, interpreting and the difference the language industry makes in the world. Thanks so much everyone: Language Matters.

If you are interested in running a fundraiser for TWB, please download our handy fundraising pack.

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

“Language can open doors to exhausted and hopeless people”

In September 2015, millions of people around the world were appalled at the image of a police officer carrying the body of two-year-old Alan Kurdi across a Turkish beach. The boy, originally from Syria, had drowned when a boat his family was travelling in from Turkey to Greece overturned, only minutes into their journey. A distraught father’s attempt to move his family from an untenable situation highlighted the urgent reality of the refugee crisis.

For many people, that photograph and the story behind it represented a turning point in their attitude to the emerging refugee crisis.

language opens doors

It was certainly a turning point for Roya Khoshnevis, who related strongly to the image. At the time, her son was a similar age to Alan and she was deeply distressed by the image and the tragic situation that it represented.

“The death of that baby boy was a big shock for me and I couldn’t stop crying when I heard the news. So I tried to find a way to help these people and their children. I wanted to help the refugees, and I found no better way than Translators without Borders, which let me support through their (Rapid Response Translation) team.”

As part of our RRT team of volunteers, Roya spends up to two hours a day translating material from English to her native Farsi. The translations are then made available to refugees after they arrive in Europe. Roya believes that language opens doors for refugees.

“Many of these refugees are ordinary people who are not able to speak any other language except their mother tongue,” she says. As translators we must help them to see the world through their language,”

As translators we must help them to see the world through their language. Language can open doors to exhausted and hopeless people

Asked about her most satisfying translation experiences, Roya notes that any translation that does not carry bad news is satisfying. She loves helping people receive the news that their families were rescued at sea, or reunited with loved ones.

Roya has lived her whole life in Mashhad, Iran. She studied English translation and works as an English teacher and freelance translator. She works a lot with children and young adults, and has a particular interest in translating children’s stories.

volunteering from a distance

As well as working as a teacher, translator and RRT volunteer, Roya is kept extra busy as the mother of a three-year-old boy. Because the RRT work is done via an online platform, volunteers contribute remotely, and at a time that best suits them. With a life as full as Roya’s, this gives important flexibility. Somehow, Roya still finds time to travel, watch movies and read books that help her to learn about different cultures and countries. Fascinated by languages, Roya studies a new one whenever she has a chance.

Do you want to help open doors? Apply to join the TWB Rapid Response Team on the TWB website.

Blog Author By Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

“To lend a hand for the greater good, to help for no reward, and all with no grand show of gratitude”

This is the story of a woman who wanted to lend a hand for a greater good. Salam Khalifeh completed an English literature degree and a post-graduate diploma in translation and interpreting at Damascus University while civil war ravaged her home country of Syria, Salam. Despite the situation, she excelled in both courses.

Attending classes every day was very dangerous”, she explained. “Studying at home was also a struggle because of the lack of electricity and internet access. Considering the situation, I know that I have achieved the greatest results possible. I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

Joining the TWB European Refugee Crisis project

The ongoing war has made it very difficult for Salam to find work. Luckily, a Facebook post introduced her to Translators without Borders (TWB). She immediately applied to join TWB’s European Refugee Crisis project as a volunteer translator. Her impressive qualifications ensured she was accepted, and she now also volunteers as a translator and interpreter with the United Nations.

Salam is also involved with a project to strengthen Syria’s future. The project aims to help young Syrians strengthen their emotional, social and intellectual life skills so they can continue with their basic education. The Syrian crisis is in its fifth year, so building a foundation for the country’s future is important. It gives much-needed hope and resilience. As she points out, “No one should be deprived of a good education, whatever the circumstances.”

lend a hand and make a difference

Salam explains that volunteering gives her the sense of purpose she was searching for after graduating and has made translation seem much more than a profession:

Translation has become a tool to make a difference

I felt like it was the most noble thing to do: to lend a hand for the greater good, to help for no reward, and all with no grand show of gratitude.

TWB unites people from diverse backgrounds to work toward a common goal.” As a Syrian who has lived through the crisis in her country, perhaps Salam understands this goal better than most people.

We used to feel safe and happy, but not anymore. Syrians are risking their lives to feel safe again. For some people, this means losing their lives at sea. For the fortunate ones who get somewhere safe, it’s still hard to build a life from nothing. But Europeans have been very kind opening their doors for us, and we cannot thank them enough.

Language barriers can prevent humanitarian assistance being provided effectively. Salam believes that translation is the most important tool for managing the current refugee crisis.

TWB has been at the frontline, translating information for those involved in the humanitarian crisis. I wanted to be part of that.

The importance of volunteers

TWB could not stay at that frontline without the generosity of volunteers like Salam. The passion and selflessness of those volunteers allows TWB to continue to improve refugees’ lives. And as Salam explains, the volunteers gain a lot from the work too: “I couldn’t help the hungry or the injured. But going to sleep everyday knowing that I’m helping people get the better life they deserve is enough for me 

Do you want to lend a hand to refugees in crisis areas? Join TWB as a volunteer on the TWB website.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

Leave no one behind: lessons from the corporate sector on localization

Leave no one behind and localization are big picture ideas that are being widely-discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit next week in Istanbul.

But, what does it really mean to leave no one – not one single person – behind?

As the head of an organization that began and remains firmly based in the localization industry, I’d like to add my voice to the conversation –it’s a conversation vital to everything we do as humanitarians.

I’ve been thinking about what humanitarians can learn from the corporate sector in terms of localization.  When I say “humanitarians”, I mean local, national, international NGOs, UN agencies, etc.

Why localization?

Why do companies localize? What do they know that we (humanitarians) don’t? The localization industry is expected to be worth $37 billion by 2018. Obviously, localization matters to corporations.

Here is what they know:

  • People remember and respond better to what they learn in their native language.

According to Robert Lane Greene of The Economist, research demonstrates that when people read something in a language they understand, they can comprehend it. If they read something in their mother tongue, they are more apt to believe it to be true.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. Simple messages in native languages work. Content can’t be translated well if it doesn’t make sense in the original language.
  • Go to the customer. Go to the places where people get information.  Localize what you find and create what is missing.
  • Provide people with knowledge and informationnot instructions. Let people decide how to use the knowledge.
  • Ensure efficient processes. Use technology to speed up (but not substitute for) localization.

We humanitarians know this. But why do companies localize, but we in the humanitarian world don’t?

Same, same, but different

In the corporate translation/content world, localization is about how to make information accessible to customers. For humanitarians, localization is about putting affected people at the center of the humanitarian response.

Maybe it’s the same thing? Doesn’t “leaving no one behind” mean making our “products” accessible to people affected by crises, our customers?  Doesn’t putting people at the center of the response mean that they decide which products best suit their needs?

Why are we behind in our participation?

We’ve all heard the excuses:

  • Translation is too expensive; we don’t have the budgets companies have.
  • Translation takes too long and people will die.
  • We don’t have translators on staff, and those we do have focus on the languages that our donors speak, not those languages that affected people speak.
  • Just give them cash and let them work out what they need.  People can make their own decisions.

Let’s address these.

Translation is too expensive

It IS expensive to translate a lot of content. Fortunately, we already have the lessons that the private sector has learned and the tools they’ve developed. We need to:

  • Decide what is crucial information (not huge tomes)
  • Ensure that the content is good (for example, not UN or NGO-speak)
  • Find qualified professional translators (bad translations can kill)
  • Use translation tools wisely
  • Make the process efficient

These things cut costs and force us to prioritize.

Translation takes too long and people will die.

Or they will die because they don’t get the right information at the right time in the right way? In my four months at TWB, I’ve discovered that this is really not as hard as we think.  TWB currently releases information in Arabic, Farsi, and Greek in less than five hours. And with the social media penetration rates of many of the places we work, we provide the best information to people using high-quality translations, subtitles, or voice overs before most humanitarians can score their visas, flights, hotels and advances.

Localization works even better if there are trained community translators already in the country of need.  In-country resources are low-cost and easily developed for all humanitarian and development workers.

As an aid community, we need to think differently. Think about how much you can do virtually, without getting on a plane. For example, TWB has no corporate HQ – our only office is a translation center in Nairobi. All of our staff and our 3,400 translators work remotely.

Just give them the cash.

I agree. Give them the cash. And ensure that those in need have access to
high-quality information that they understand so they know what’s available to best protect themselves and their families.

Localization is as much about improving the quality of assistance as it is about ensuring people can protect themselves and live with dignity. As an aid community, we can only meet our own rigorous standards if people get the information they need in a language they speak and in a format they can access.

With all the other commitments, let’s make sure we really do leave no one behind.

Still not convinced?

Translators without Borders has done a series of very simple comprehension studies.  This will make you think:

  • 197 people were asked questions about how Ebola is spread.
  • 8% of the questions were answered correctly
  • About 100 of these people attended an English information session; the other 100 got the same information in a professionally-translated Swahili session
  • Both groups were given the same test at the end of the sessions
  • The group that received information in English got 16% of the questions correct
  • The ground that received info in Swahili got…

….Wait for it…

  • 92% of the questions correct.

If we’re really serious about ‘leaving no one behind’, then every humanitarian organization should invest in ensuring that key information is already translated into languages where we know disasters will occur (or are occurring) by:

  • Train community translators and interpreters to listen and respond, alongside community groups.
  • Ask for translation support. There are tools to rapidly develop local translator networks or global virtual translation/interpreting teams.
  • Pre-translate questionnaires and make them available in various media.  You can sub-title or dub videos or radio programs fairly easily into numerous languages and have them ready for deployment.
  • Make sure source content is simplified in advance.  I shudder to think that we might have to ask translators to translate the CHS graphic.  Simple language can be easily translated into languages that are not vocabulary-rich, without compromising the meaning.

It’s not difficult. It’s not expensive. It will improve our accountability. It will save lives.

Come visit TWB in the Innovation Marketplace at the WHS. We will be at booth #2.

Contributors: Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Content Rules and Donna Parrish, Owner/President of MultiLingual Computing, Inc., publisher of the language industry magazine “MultiLingual” and Co-owner and President of Localization World, Ltd., inputted significantly to this piece. They are TWB Board Members.

BBlog Authory Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director

A translator is never too busy to help when it comes to translation

Translators without Borders responds to communications and language needs in humanitarian and development settings. This means providing vital information to people in need, in a language they can understand. We work with many talented, dedicated volunteer translators who help us to achieve our mission. This post presents one volunteer translator story out of many.


A volunteer translator story: Andrea Alvisi, one of our volunteers who has translated almost 15,000 words for non-profit organizations.

Q: What inspired you to volunteer for TWB?

A: When I approached TWB, I had already been selected by Amnesty International Italy as one of their official translators. I firmly believe that skilled linguists should devote part of their time to a good cause – I see volunteering my translation and interpreting services to charities and NGOs who cannot afford to do this at a fee as an integral part of my professional and personal development. TWB is probably one of the biggest names out there and it counts on thousands of translators all over the world in a wide variety of languages, which I find fascinating.

Q: How long have you been volunteering?

A: I joined the team a couple of years ago. So far I have translated over 14,000 words.

Q: How much time do you spend on doing translations for Translators without Borders?

A: I have a very busy life (don’t we all say that?), so unfortunately I cannot commit to very large jobs. However, I find I can easily fit their projects in my schedule and I usually sit down in the evening or at weekends to complete them. It would be very difficult for me to quantify the exact amount of time spent on each project, but I have to say the very generous deadlines don’t make it feel like a burden at all.

Q: Which language(s) do you translate from / into?

A: I translate from English into Italian.

Q: What types of texts have you translated?

A: When I started volunteering for TWB, I soon realised the majority of their assignments involve some technical jargon. Over the years, I have found myself translating reports of various technical natures pertaining to crisis management and corporate measures. For example, one assignment was to translate a letter to be sent out to various stakeholders for a high-profile football charity. I can honestly say every assignment is different and challenging in its own way.

Q: Have you learnt anything while translating for TWB?

A: Yes, a great deal. Most of the material I have tackled so far relates to the operations of the Red Cross and I have used the background information I gained through volunteering for TWB to apply for a volunteering interpreting position with the Red Cross itself. Volunteering as a translator for TWB also helps to keep your eyes peeled and see things through a different perspective. One of my assignments, for instance, made me think very hard about the difficulties faced by disabled football fans when they wish to take part in a match due the lack of suitable infrastructure in stadia. The world is your oyster, as they say, and it’s out there for you to discover. I feel TWB helps you to do so.

Join TWB

Do you want to join the TWB and create your own volunteer translator story? Sign up at the TWB website.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, translators without Borders volunteer

Responding to the European refugee crisis with Words of Relief

Words of relief program

Since November 2015, as part of our response to the European refugee crisis, Translators without Borders has translated over 100,000 words of critical information into main refugee languages. We have reached tens of thousands of refugees on their journey from the Greek islands and along the ‘Balkan route’ and we have engaged over 100 professionals and volunteer translators for our Words of Relief European refugee response program.

Meet TWB

Meet Translators without Borders at the following upcoming events:

World Humanitarian Summit
Istanbul, Turkey 23 – 24 May 2016

Localization World Dublin
Dublin, Ireland 8 – 10 June 2016

LocWorld Flag Challenge Coastal Treasure Hunt Organized by KantanMT
Dublin, Ireland 11 June 2016