a TWB Rapid Response Team story
It has often been said that a picture paints a thousand words. For Maria Bountali, a single photograph not only painted a thousand words; it changed her life. The photograph, which accompanied an online article entitled “The Horrors of the Sea,” showed a desperate, exhausted refugee, and touched Maria instantly. She didn’t read the article. She didn’t need to because the photograph told her everything she needed to know. That is the beginning of her Rapid Response Team story.
“His head was just above the water; it felt like his eyes were looking at me. He was helpless. He was truly exhausted”
At the time, Maria was struggling with her own personal issues, but she says that that the image, taken by a Spanish photographer named Juan Medina, gave her a new perspective and changed her way of thinking. That’s when she decided to look for a new volunteering opportunity. Maria comes from a family that advocates community service. Her grandmother and great grandmother were recognized for their generosity and philanthropic work, and she has observed her father, a paediatrician, offer his services for free to those in need since the 1980s. She discovered Translators without Borders (TWB), which gave her the opportunity to help people like the man in Juan Medina’s photograph.
Joining the TWB Rapid Response Team
Maria is now a member of TWB’s Greek Rapid Response Team, translating news articles from the international and Greek media for our crisis response work. She also translates the regular Rumours factsheet on behalf of one of TWB’s key partners, Internews.
Maria says that this work is very satisfying for her. She understands how important it is to provide people with the right information in a language they can understand.
“Many violent outbreaks, and the fire at the refugee settlement in Moria, Greece, reportedly started because people there were very agitated due to the spread of false rumours.”
Giving more people access to accurate information, by translating it into languages they easily understand, is a critical part of the work of TWB.
Maria lives in Brussels and in her spare time she maintains a blog called Great Places to Read a Book, which combines her love of travel, reading and photography. She still hopes to one day meet Juan Medina so she can let him know how a single photograph changed her life.
By Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders Volunteer
International translation day
Today we celebrate International Translation Day, a day to recognize the incredible contribution that translators make to connecting worlds and bringing people closer to the information that they need. TWB thanks the thousands of translators who support and collaborate with Translators without Borders every day, helping us build a world where knowledge knows no language barriers.
celebrating one of our many translators
Since TWB started to respond to the European refugee crisis in November 2015, volunteer translators have been supporting our efforts through translation. Based in Nicosia, Cyprus, Maria Roussou is a member of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) for the Greek language, and she translates from English into Greek. Besides Arabic and Farsi, TWB also provides Greek translations of daily news and information on the refugee crisis for residents of Greece.
With Greece at the forefront of the crisis, Maria was strongly motivated to help. In her words, “The refugee crisis is yet another international disaster. I cannot begin to think what all these people are going through, physically and emotionally. Helping the refugees should not be considered as volunteering, but as an obligation.” Maria believes that information in their native language can greatly empower refugees, who are already in such a vulnerable position, and are facing numerous challenges and obstacles.
Joining the TWB translator team
Maria first heard about TWB through a course she took on translation business development. “A tutor mentioned the remarkable work of TWB, both on a humanitarian and on a professional level. I submitted my application
form the same day!” At that time, the refugee crisis had already begun
and Maria immediately received a request to join a Rapid Response Team: “I said yes without hesitating, not even for a second: I was offering to help and they needed my help.”
From that moment, Maria remembers that she was guided through the process of working on an RRT: “I received instant and abundant help from the other volunteers. I felt a member of the team right away.” She and her team mostly translate news articles relating to the refugee crisis such as the situation at the borders and the way each country and the EU are reacting to the crisis. According to Maria, there is excellent collaboration within the team, which works quickly and efficiently. Even so, urgency should not compromise the quality of the translation: “As soon as you pick up a document or a part of it, you are committed to deliver it as soon as possible, with the best possible quality,” she explains.
“Translation is my passion and knowing that it can help people in need, makes it twice the pleasure”
Maria spends about an hour a day volunteering for TWB, depending on the workload of the team: “I try to make myself available… I know that helping even a little goes a long way. Besides, I really enjoy it.”
Happy International Translation Day to all of our translators around the world!
To sign up as a volunteer with Translators without Borders, click here.
By Kate Murphy, Translators without Border volunteer
THE GIFT OF INFORMATION
I grew up in a village in rural Kenya. In this village, many people had little or no education. Those who were lucky enough to see the doors of a classroom only reached primary level. The village was essentially an illiterate one. When I learned how to read and write, many villagers asked me to read healthcare fliers to them; prenatal and postnatal clinic booklets that were issued at health centers and in the village. In those days there were frequent disease outbreaks, such as cholera, measles, diarrhoea and malaria. It is by a miracle of sorts that I survived in such an environment, because my mother was also illiterate and public health workers were scarce, and often overwhelmed. The only information on critical health issues came from the government and NGOs who were at that time trying to respond to various health crises. However, this is not the story I want to talk about: the story I want to tell is one about a poor illiterate mother whose second child died from cholera. A story of why the gift of information is vital.
The story of a mother
This story takes place in a time when the efforts to contain the cholera outbreak had been seen to bear fruit. Leaflets were distributed in the village on general hygiene practices. Breastfeeding mothers were told to wash their hands before feeding their babies and to prepare meals in a clean environment. The leaflets also had information about seeking immediate treatment when a child showed symptoms of diarrhoea. Mama Tinda had all those leaflets containing this information. The leaflets were carefully kept in her clinic bag but because she could only read her native language, the leaflets, in English, made no sense to her, and she always relied on health workers to read and explain the information to her. So when her second-born child got diarrhoea, she could not follow the advice on leaflets. Mama Tinda’s only fault was her inability to read and understand English. That child died. During a casual chat with her a few months ago, she told me that she regrets not having an education. As fate would have it Mama Tinda did not have any more children, and because her first child died of malaria she now remains childless.
Join the movement
The story of Mama Tinda and many mothers like her motivates me to support the mission of Translators without Borders; that is to provide people access to life-saving information in their own language so that knowledge can positively impact their lives. This is the story of language that makes me appeal to you to support the saving of lives through language. Support Translators without Borders and give the gift of information.
By Paul Warambo, Translators without Borders Kenya Manager
Selima ben Chagra
“I think the world has a lot more to offer to refugees than it is currently giving them”
With a deep personal interest in human rights, politics and foreign languages, Selima ben Chagra is a freelance translator and interpreter (French-English and Arabic-English) focused on translating and transcreating advertisements and commercials.
When she heard about TWB’s European Refugee Crisis RESPONSE project…
… Selina signed up straight away. “I didn’t really think it through,” she confesses. “I just wanted to help.” “Being a refugee is disorienting enough, but when you add in the feeling of helplessness that comes from an inability to communicate, facilitating understanding becomes even more important,” she told us.
Selina earned an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015. Her experience as a translator and interpreter with the United Nations Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Arab States inspired Selima to work in the humanitarian field. Since then her career has reflected her strong interest in international development and cooperation, and a passion for communication. Selina has spent the past fourteen years studying and working in the corporate, non-profit and inter-governmental sectors, including as a teacher of English, French and Arabic.
“Language offers both the charm of communication and the curse of ambiguity”
On an almost-daily basis, from her home in Giza in Egypt, Rawan translates media coverage of the European refugee crisis and its consequences into her native Arabic. She also provides people affected by the crisis with information on issues of more immediate relevance. In addition to things like weather forecasts, she translates information sheets that aim to clearly distinguish between truth and hearsay, and helps raise awareness of the risks of abuse by people smugglers, detention, or forced repatriation.
Rawan Gharib is a freelance translator and a creative writer, with a self-described “obsessive” hobby of music archiving. In addition to TWB, she also volunteers with Global Voices’ Lingua Project. While studying Hispanic Language and Literature at Cairo University, Rawan developed a passion for translation, and literature analysis and criticism. Her decision to get involved with TWB was intuitive, and her rationale is simple. “I’m a native Arabic speaker, a translator and a human; I felt it was my role to play.”
Rawan notes, “Language tends to be even more tricky and confusing in situations of fear or pressure. …Successful communication in such situations provides additional security, understanding and acceptance; which any refugee or immigrant needs.”
Selima and Rawan have dedicated over 50 hours each of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. If you would like to apply to become a Rapid Response translator, click here.
The first to translate 500k words
“When I try to explain to people what’s going on in Nord-Kivu or Haiti, they often ask me how do I know about it. Thanks to TWB, I have become more interested in situations that are not widely reported in the news.”
“It means a lot! It means hundreds of hours of hard work, research and sometimes struggle to get to the right words.” Eric explained, when asked about his incredible achievement. “Now, my next target is to go beyond the 1 million words limit. I hope that I will get more people engaged with TWB, because currently some people seem surprised when I explain to them that I have translated 500,000 words for a NGO.”
In 2011, Eric completed an MA in Translation Sciences from the University of Heidelberg after graduating with a BA in Applied Foreign Languages in France. He now works as a freelance translator from English and German into French with his partner, Annika Rathjens, in their common translation bureau Я & R Language Services near Hamburg in Germany. His passions are newspaper cartoons and non-mainstream progressive and ecology-oriented newspapers. Eric would like to open an alternative newspaper kiosk and organize a free library service as well as debates and cultural events to share this passion with others.
“I found out about TWB in an ad on ProZ.com some years ago. At that time, I didn’t have much money but I wanted to get engaged and make a difference. I was fascinated by the idea and variety of topics covered by TWB so I decided to offer my expertise to organizations, big and small, that are striving to make this world a better place to live in.”
A win-win situation
Eric feels proud to play a small part in fighting against diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and leprosy, something his grandmother, a member of the French Association against Leprosy Foundation, Raoul Follereau, was also very passionate about. Translating for TWB has also been a learning experience for Eric: “I have become more sensitized to problems happening in regions that don’t get much media attention, or that affect people whose voice you do not hear in mainstream news channels. When I try to explain to people what’s going on in Nord-Kivu or Haiti, they often ask me how do I know about it. Thanks to TWB, I am interested in situations that are not widely reported in the news.”
“Some people seem disinterested when I tell them about what I do, but I am confident in what I am doing,” said Eric, with a final quote: “Gandhi once said: At the beginning, they ignore you, then they laugh at you and finally, they imitate you.” And that’s how he became the first volunteer to translate 500k words.
Do you want to join Eric as a volunteer translator? Sign up at the TWB website.
By Francesca Debernardis, former Translators without Borders Communications Intern
Volunteer interview: Farideh colthart
More than 1 million migrants came to Europe in 2015, mostly from Syria but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Eritrea, amongst other countries. The majority arrived by sea with many experiencing traumatic journeys. Reception centers struggled to cope with the linguistic barriers, complicating efforts to help those seeking a safe haven. To help address this problem, Translators without Borders (TWB) is playing a significant role in the provision of translators and interpreters one of whom is Farideh Colthart, a native Farsi speaker with a professional background as an osteopath. Farideh’s medical expertise and legal knowledge mean that she has an invaluable skillset and can act as a link between asylum seekers and aid workers.
Helping refugees understand
Farideh is a regular visitor to Greece’s refugee camps in and around Athens. She explains, “Asylum seekers can be disorientated by an alien environment. They don’t understand the local language and are confused about how things work. Many cannot read or write, which makes things even more difficult. This can also be said for communication with people who speak dialects that Farsi- and Dari- speakers cannot understand. In these cases we have to seek help from others to interpret for us.”
“My work is with asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iran,” she says, “aiding them to understand the asylum-seeking process. This work is immensely satisfying – particularly when I can see how I am helping make a difference. One initiative in which I was involved has proven particularly successful. This involved the design of a leaflet with a map of Athens on one side and key links on the other such as food or clothing points, showers, and medical services. The map had used words but also symbols for those who cannot read. On a subsequent visit to Athens I was able to see how helpful this was to new arrivals. It was so rewarding!“
A voice for both sides
Born in Tehran and educated in the UK, Farideh empathizes with those parachuted into a very different cultural environment. Since qualifying as an interpreter she has devoted more and more time to helping asylum seekers. She has worked for TWB since 2015 when she was introduced to the organization through a colleague. Meanwhile, regular work for the UK Home Office, local councils and other agencies means that she travels around the country to support Afghans and Iranians who already have refugee status.
“This work is immensely satisfying – particularly when I can see how I am helping to make a difference.”
Through her work, Farideh has noticed many Afghan women struggling with bringing up their children in a westernized society when their lives at home still reflect a patriarchal culture. She said it can lead to family conflicts, feelings of loss of control and social alienation. Farideh explains that she seeks to help them with their day-to-day needs, whether related to housing, children’s education or health. “I also help to run a support group for women for the Refugee Council. This encourages integration through social activities. Through my work with councils and especially with TWB, every day I see the crucially important role of communication in improving people’s lives and life chances. Language matters and I can be a voice for both sides: those who need help and those who seek to help them.”
By Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer
“The sense that people are genuinely helped by my translation makes me happy”
For more than 11 years, Bashir Baqi has translated a wide variety of texts between English and his native Farsi — from home appliance operating manuals, technical texts on philosophy, architecture, and psychology, to user interfaces, games, and Wikipedia pages. Bashir is also a freelance proof-reader and loves walking – whether by the ocean or through remote jungles.
A desire to help others
For the last few months, Bashir has donated up to twenty hours each week to the TWB European Refugee Crisis response project. He is driven by a desire to help other humans in the best way he can: giving them information in a language they understand. “The sense that people are genuinely helped by my translations makes me happy, and I wish I could do more,” he said. “Being able to do it as a volunteer, without egotism or obligation, gives me a positive feeling, and I would surely encourage other translators to try it too.”
Bashir holds a Masters of Arts in Translation Studies from Iran’s Birjand University and a diploma in English from the Iran Language Institute. His clients have included the Iranian Ministry of Science, the Iranian police department, and various publishing companies.
“I could see the pain of those who couldn’t communicate”
Omid Xadem, a Farsi-Dari-Tajik Persian linguist and researcher, is a member of the TWB Rapid Response Team in Europe. The current refugee situation is particularly personal for him. Omid traveled across Turkey for two months and kept seeing the same picture: refugee children working in shops, but unable to communicate. “In Konya, a city that is hosting a great number of Syrian refugees, I saw a little girl selling some handkerchiefs and other trinkets. She had nowhere to go, she didn’t seem to belong to anyone and she only spoke Arabic. I could see that she wanted help and to keep her dignity by working. And it really moved me,” relates Omid.
Omid joined TWB when the organization started looking for Farsi speakers for its Words of Relief program. With rich experience in translating and interpreting, Omid is working with the team on voice-over recordings, radio messages, written texts, reviews, and quality assurance. Materials that the team produces have very practical uses: updating refugees on the situation at the borders or about any impending complications, such as ferry strikes, informing them how to register and directing them to the right people – if they need a doctor or have lost their luggage, for example. Omid explains his work very simply: “lots of people on the ground are also volunteers. We are trying to make it easier for them to communicate with the refugees.”
INTERESTED IN VolunteerING
Bashir and Omid have dedicated over 50 hours each of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. If you would like to apply to become a Rapid Response translator, click here.
Volunteer translators are at the heart of Translators without Borders’ response to the European refugee crisis. They work tirelessly to translate a range of important content such as directions on how to reach specific locations or camps, instructions on what to do inside an asylum center, media roundups, weather forecasts, and other articles that may help refugees on their journey.
Translation breaks barriers
Seham Abdou Ebied, an Egyptian, remembers the influx of refugees in her town as soon as the Syrian conflict broke out. They told her stories of war and destruction, about their children and relatives being killed in front of their eyes. The refugees she met fled their homes and walked all the way to Turkey before coming to Egypt. “The images I’ve seen in the media of drowned children and adults – I kept thinking to myself that they are escaping from death to another.”
“Refugees, children and adults, need to understand and receive accurate information in such a crisis – and this can only be achieved through communication in their native language. That’s why I believe translation is as important as food and shelter because it removes the barriers, and helps people cope when they are suffering and far away from home”, explains TWB’s volunteer translator Seham Abdou Ebied.
refugees can’t wait
As part of a larger team, Seham communicates with other members though Skype, where they share files for translation.
“This was all set up by TWB managers, who provide us with very professional support and do their best to answer all our queries. In the world of translation, you have to be quick. Translation for NGOs and refugees needs to be prompt, as there are new documents every hour. Sometimes I have translation work, but then I receive a translation request for TWB, I think and say:”
“My work can wait, but refugees can’t. What a wonderful feeling it is to do something for humanity, and to relieve someone in distress”
Seham learned about Translators without Borders through her colleagues.
“Once I found out about TWB’s mission, I filled out the application form and waited for response. After a month, I was delighted to receive an offer to become a member Rapid Response Team for Arabic.”
Do you want to break barriers with translation? Sign up as a volunteer translator on the TWB website.
By Marketa Sostakova, Translators without Borders volunteer