Responding to a tsunami with mother language translation

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.

On 22 December 2018, a tsunami struck the Banten Province in Western Java, Indonesia. It devastated buildings and homes along the coasts of Java and Sumatra. It caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. The international response offered monetary aid and supplies for the Indonesian community. Meanwhile, TWB’s translators volunteered to ensure that those in need got vital information in a language they understood.

Lesser Sundra Islands, Indonesia.
Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia.

Rapid Response

This is the story of how one translator’s dedication, skill, and speed made a difference. Indras Wulandar has worked as a professional translator for many years. She translates from English into Indonesian (her mother tongue) and Javanese. In the last four years, she has translated over 25,000 words for TWB. She also facilitated the translation of many more as a quality reviewer.

During the tragedy, Indras’ contribution was outstanding in reviewing Indonesian translators’ tests. This allowed TWB to recruit the Indonesian translators required to respond to language support needs during the crisis.

Indras and the rest of TWB’s community of Indonesian linguists responded to our call. We needed to translate vital documents to support people affected by the tsunami in Western Java. Indras had already helped with crisis projects, like the response to the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, a few months earlier. For those who speak Indonesian as their mother language, this was a significant project. It provided health and safety information in a language shared by people caught in the natural disaster.

“The experience showed that even the tiniest act of kindness and help can really matter.” Indras Wulandar, Translator.

Humanity Road

During the crisis, TWB worked with Humanity Road, a non-profit specializing in disaster response. There was a need for life-saving warnings and emergency advice in local languages. While the common language is Indonesian, the most widely spoken in the area are Javanese and Sundanese. In some humanitarian responses such as this, there is little information on the languages spoken by crisis-affected people.

Our translators provided that information in the necessary languages. TWB also created a map of languages spoken in the area affected by the tsunami. Maps like these give information on the languages spoken, literacy, and best means for communication. Humanitarians can use this information freely to plan and refine their communication with affected people. See more TWB maps here.

Indonesia Tsunami – Crisis Language Map
Indonesia Tsunami – a map of language needs following the December 2018 tsunami.

Reaching out to others

As a strong believer in life-long learning and self-improvement, Indras is a keen translation reviewer. Reviewers ensure we provide high-quality translations to non-profits over the world. In situations like this, it is vital that people get the information they need in a timely manner, and in a language they understand. Her quick review work made that happen. Indras understands the magnitude of her work as a reviewer. “Reviewing tests is particularly challenging for me, because it means, more or less, that I take part in shaping the quality of the work.”

“Never stop learning and improving yourself. Like the old saying goes, ‘the more you know, the more you don’t know.’”

For Indras, being able to live off of her passion, translation, makes her feel privileged. She loves her work, and she likes to volunteer her skills to give back to society. She describes knowing that she can be useful as “therapeutic.”

“It’s good to know that I can expand my own knowledge while helping to connect these non-profit communities with people who need their service.” – Indras Wulandar

Devastation after a tsunami, Indonesia.

“I signed up to TWB because it is a platform that I can trust. With its global and broad outreach, I hope to help those in need. Including minority groups and those who live in remote places.” Indras Wulandar.

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 [email protected]

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Indras Wulandar, Translator for Translators without Borders.

Using language to support humanitarians

Humanitarian emergencies know no language boundaries.

In the 13 countries currently experiencing the most severe crises, people speak over 1,200 languages. Yet, humanitarians operating in these crises often do not have the necessary language support, making their jobs even more difficult. 

World Humanitarian Day on 19 August is an opportune moment to reflect on this challenge. On this day, we honor all aid workers risking their lives to help people facing disasters and conflicts. At Translators without Borders (TWB), we believe that language should not stand in the way of the ability of these dedicated and brave people to deliver life-saving support.

Yahaya (center left) TWB Kanuri Team Leader conducts research on how well words like "stress" and "abuse" are understood in Kanuri and whether words like "rape" and "mental health" carry a stigma.
Yahaya (center left), TWB Kanuri Team Leader, conducts comprehension research. Internally displaced people’s camp, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.

Yet, too often, aid agencies do not give their staff the appropriate resources and tools to engage with communities and local responders in a language they understand. Translation is a consistent challenge, but mostly overlooked in humanitarian budgets amid other more tangible items. As a result, humanitarian workers are often forced to rely on unsupported national colleagues, untrained interpreters, English-centric jargon, and procedures that may exclude those who speak local languages.

The consequences of overlooking the need for language support are dire for the people in need of humanitarian aid – and pretty tough for humanitarian workers themselves.

Many of these aid workers are forced to rely on national staff or local community members to act as translators or interpreters. These staff members are largely expected to deal with the many challenges that differences in languages present on their own, although translation skills are rarely what they are recruited for. Program documentation such as guidelines, manuals, and other materials including specialized terminology is translated without training or support. Some may be working between two languages when neither is their first language.

Situations where interviews with community members pass through three or four languages are not uncommon. An international aid worker may speak in English, a national staff member interprets into the national language, and then a local school teacher interprets into the language of that village, and back again. This approach multiplies the potential loss of information in translation and lacks proper quality assurance. It also forces under-supported humanitarian staff or community members to perform a stressful task with little or no confidence that people’s information and communication needs are being met.

Mustapha (left), TWB - Hausa Team Lead, works with enumerators from the Danish Demining Group / Danish Refugee Council to conduct research on comprehension of information in various languages and formats at Farm Centre IDP Camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
On World Humanitarian Day, we honor all humanitarian aid workers, including our staff, and commit to ensuring language does not stand in the way of their ability to support and empower those who need it most. Here, Mustapha (left), TWB Hausa Team Leader, conducts language comprehension research in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

The fact that complex humanitarian terms and concepts in English are not directly translatable into other languages compounds the problem for humanitarians. TWB’s research in different contexts has found that even aid workers do not always understand the English concepts they are asked to interpret. For example, “violence against women” was translated into Rohingya as “violent women” and “food security” in northeast Nigeria as “food protected by guards”. Comprehension rates among humanitarian data collectors are as low as 35 percent in some places. The result may be, at best, confusion or misunderstanding, and, at worst, inaccurate data upon which response plans are built. It is also undoubtedly stressful for those trying to do their best in challenging circumstances.

A lack of language support can also undermine coordination with and involvement of local responders. When meetings are held in a national or international language, for example, local language speakers are excluded from decision-making. This is not only a matter of dignity and mutual respect, but it is also a crucial precondition for tapping into local knowledge and capacities, allowing those on the frontline of a response to avoid delays in making potentially life-affecting decisions.

In short, humanitarian aid workers are better equipped to ensure people affected by crisis receive timely and relevant aid when they have proper language support.

This support begins with collecting the data needed to plan for language needs, and resourcing those needs appropriately. Training and capacity development programs can help build translation and interpreting capacity in languages for which there are no professional translators. A library of resource materials and tools in the relevant languages can be built up for all aid providers to make use of.

As we mark World Humanitarian Day on August 19, it is time to shift our attention to how we can use language services to support humanitarian workers trying to help in the most dire of circumstances. Addressing language barriers between humanitarians and crisis-affected communities can deliver the humanitarian world’s commitment to quality and accountability across responses, helping support and empower those who need it most.  

 

Read more about TWB’s response in northeast Nigeria.

Join us as a partner to benefit from our translator community, or sponsor us and enable TWB to provide humanitarian workers with the language support they need.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders.

Photographs by Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager for Translators without Borders.

A translation worth a million words  

translator
Suzanne Assénat

In 2017, this team of four translators donated over 1.2 million words to the work of Translators without Borders (TWB).

In recognition of their invaluable contribution in mentoring new French translators, the French translation team (Barbara Pissane, Suzanne Assénat, Gladis Audi and Ode Laforge) won the 2018 Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Award for Empowerment. Their work has allowed TWB to significantly increase language capacity and guarantee translation quality in one of the organization’s most requested language pairs (French to English). You would be hard-pressed to find a group of more deserving and yet modest individuals with such impressive achievements to their names. Having put into words countless life-changing messages, and contributed to the stories of thousands of people in crisis and need, it is inevitable that these women have some tales of their own to tell.

They are Empowerment Award-winning translators, but they are also so much more.

The team is made up of four witty volunteers, translators-interpreters, writers and mothers, each with their own quirks and attributes. Gladis describes herself as a hunger-relief activist and amateur rosarian who likes to explore nuances and innovate solutions; Ode is a teacher and communicator at heart; Barbara has a fondness for early music and tall ships events; Suzanne appreciates her family time and has a keen interest in the music of words and music itself.

translator Gladis
Gladis Audi

 With so many roles, it is a wonder these women smashed the one-million-word mark, but their motivations have been clear from the start.

All four translators acknowledge that their work with TWB allows them to contribute to social change and global awareness. For Gladis, “Spreading knowledge by breaking language barriers is very significant in itself.” Their motivations stem from a desire to feel “closer to people in distress, people living in countries shattered by wars, poverty, climate disasters or disease outbreaks,” says Ode. This work is her way to “express solidarity with them.”

The team tells the most moving anecdotes.

When asked to recount a significant project with TWB, Suzanne proudly remembered a time in which she mentored translation students in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was impressed by the students’ efforts. They did their work with “little computing hardware, connectivity problems, [while living with the threat of] armed conflict,” but they “kept at it and delivered pretty good translations.”

 translator Ode
Ode Laforge

Ode has a favorite memory that is close to her heart. “How could I ever forget this little book I translated for children in Africa, in which the main character, a little girl living with HIV, was talking about her everyday life?” Ode asks, as she reflects on the human connection that volunteering can foster. “She managed to lead a relatively happy life, taking the drugs she needed, eating healthy food prepared by her loving grandma, avoiding everything that could negatively interfere with her health, fighting difficult moments to stay healthy, playing with other children, and expressing her wish to become a scientist when she grew up, to find a cure for this terrible disease. Despite the seriousness of the topic, this little story was heartwarming and optimistic, but I was deeply moved while translating it.”

Not only has their support left a mark on the lives of thousands, but volunteering for TWB has made a difference to them, too.

This volunteer experience provided the backdrop for a new friendship, which began on the translation platform, between Ode and another TWB volunteer translator, Nadia Gabriel. She describes how they built a friendship “exchanging views on how to best render a tricky sentence or a difficult passage.” Since then, they have met in person and have kept in touch ever since. Ode is so grateful that her work with TWB has given her the opportunity to get to know such lovely friends. 

Finally, these productive translators shared some words of advice.

Gladis advocates balance and encourages aspiring volunteer translators to “work extra hard, have lots of fun, believe in yourself and in the team. A little can go a long way.”

Barbara Pissane translator
Barbara Pissane

For Barbara, it is all about the work ethic of keeping going and finding your work gratifying, You will be proud of the help you give to people and you will grow more confident. Moreover, you will have the opportunity to work with people who are always extremely committed!”

Suzanne recognizes the difficulty of finding the balance when translating as a volunteer and doing it for a living. Her advice is never to feel guilty for not doing enough, and never stay away indefinitely. “Come again, however (in)frequently you can! There’s an analogy to make with blood donations: You don’t and can’t do that very often, but every little drop (well, pouch, whatever) helps make a difference.”

Would you like to share in these life-changing experiences as a TWB volunteer translator? Apply now to get translating.

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Gladis Audi, Ode Laforge, Barbara Pissane and Suzanne Assénat, TWB Volunteer Translators

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.

On the ground in Bangladesh. So – how do we communicate?

A second report from Rebecca Petras who is heading up TWB’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The language complexity in the current Rohingya refugee crisis is deep. I had only a faint understanding of it when I landed a few days ago; I have a slightly better sense now. The Rohingya refugees come from Rakhine in Myanmar. They are Muslim; the other dominant population in Rakhine is Buddhist. The political issues between the two groups and the Rakhine as a whole and the government of Myanmar are extremely complicated, and not for my humble explanation. Suffice it to say, on 25 August 2017, a massive and violent event forced thousands of Rohingya to abandon their villages and flee to Bangladesh, through hills, unfriendly areas, and across water. There are still many thousands waiting to cross the river; in total, there are well over 700,000 new arrivals.

In and around Cox’s Bazar, a tourist town (with the world’s longest contiguous beach) in Chittagong division of Bangladesh, there are now official and unofficial camps, sprawling across hills. Because of decades of unrest in Rakhine, there were already approximately 200,000 Rohingya refugees living in either one of two official camps or within the host community, and many have lived there for two decades. They are now witnessing a massive and very uncertain influx from Myanmar, including thousands of orphans, thousands of traumatized and abused women, and many more who need medical attention.

'There really isn’t any communications happening yet, and no one really knows how to do it'

All of this makes for a very complicated language situation, with an amalgamation of spoken Rohingya from long-term refugees and new arrivals, spoken Chittagong from locals, written Bengali (or Bangla), and, possibly, written Burmese. Add layers of what is allowed by the government (still unclear which languages are being allowed), as well as how to translate complicated English terms into Rohingya, and we have a tricky communications issue. One of the main goals of Translators without Borders’ initial work here is to assess the language needs and then direct the numerous responding aid organizations, with accurate information on language. We will be testing assumptions and testing actual comprehension of material that is given to refugees.

We are beginning that assessment now – I will be working with community health workers and youth this coming week, and our research lead (Eric DeLuca) will be joining me in one week to test agency communications tools with new arrivals. But, at the same time, responding aid organizations want to start communicating right now. The community engagement leader of one of our main international partners said when I first met with him that there really isn’t any communications happening yet, and no one really knows how to do it. So while we try to put standards in place, train new interpreters, support interpreters with resources, and address the various language needs, we also need to just start communicating now. With seemingly endless rains and very little infrastructure in the camps, there is a very real danger of water-borne diseases, making communications urgent. What I need most at this time is more time in the day to get it all done.

Below are some suggestions of how you can support this response. Stay tuned for more updates this week.

Rebecca PetrasRebecca Petras, TWB Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

When crisis hits – communication is key

Deployed for the first time in 2015 to respond to the refugee crisis in Greece, the Translators without Borders Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT) counts over 80 volunteers. From their homes around the world, equipped with an internet connection and a Skype account, the will to help others and language skills, these volunteers bring vital information to thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece, in a language they understand.

‘If people cannot understand each other, there will be a barrier that not only makes it difficult to communicate but also makes it difficult to trust each other’

Muhannad Al-Bayk, a graduate of and now teacher at the University of Aleppo, joined the Arabic RRT in early 2017. Since then, he has been lending his valuable translation skills to TWB partners such as RefuComm, Internews, and the British Red Cross, while juggling his studies and teaching responsibilities.

Having volunteered over 50 translation hours as part of TWB’s response to the refugee crisis in Greece, we were keen to catch up with Muhannad to find out why he decided to join TWB and what motivates him to be involved in this response. Muhannad starts by telling us, ‘I wanted to find a way to give to others who hadn’t been as lucky in life as I have. While researching how to help, I stumbled upon TWB which seemed like a perfect match for my skill set.’

Muhannad’s tasks as an Arabic RRT translator are varied. In addition to translating and editing files using TWB’s translation platform Kató, he also helps develop glossaries, format documents, and other technical tasks. His translation content has also been quite diverse – from translating articles for “News that Moves,” an online information source for refugees and migrants in Greece, to flyers to direct people affected by the Grenfell fires in London, to a helpline. Muhannad believes that these projects are truly helpful ‘because they are timely for the target audience. Being able to read about things as they happen helps people understand what is going on and makes them feel less lost and more involved in their situation.’

‘Working as a volunteer has been an invaluable experience. I’m constantly tackling new issues and learning new things. Meeting a lovely new group of professional people is a bonus. It also taught me to be more committed to timelines, since RRT work relies on fast turnaround times.’

Why language matters in a crisis

The dedicated volunteer wraps up our interview telling us, ‘It is hard to put one’s life in the hands of someone you do not even understand. Therefore, language is key during times of crisis. [Language] connects hearts and minds, it is the primary means of communication’.


Click here to read the stories of other TWB Rapid Response translators.

By Angela Eldering, TWB Volunteer 

 

Volunteer story: Translating rumors and helping refugee children express themselves

A TWB volunteer story

Amina Hadjela is a great TWB volunteer story. She became intrigued by Translators without Borders (TWB) after discovering the organization online. The stories of response to major worldwide crises, such the Ebola epidemic in Africa, fascinated her. The more Amina read about TWB, the more she felt compelled to become involved. She describes the feeling as being like a magnet drawing her to the crisis translation projects. She immediately applied to be a volunteer translator for the Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT).

Amina is Algerian, with a Bachelor’s degree in translation. Not content with speaking just Arabic, French and English, she has been learning Chinese since 2015. She sees it as a way of enriching her linguistic experience and hopes to eventually become involved in Mandarin translation and subtitling.

The RRT keeps her busy with daily translations of vital content for refugees such as health care information, news updates and the translation of the ‘Rumours’ fact sheet a publication by Internews which aims to correct misinformation with verified facts for those affected by the European refugee crisis.

A memorable experience

One of the most memorable translation experiences for Amina was a piece reflecting the voices of refugee children. ‘Our eyes, our future, our dreams’ was produced as a special issue of ‘In The Loop’, published by Internews (English version here). It emerged from a series of workshops designed to help Syrian and Afghan children living in refugee camps express themselves in creative ways. In it, the children share why they left their countries of origin, their experiences living in organized sites in Greece, and their dreams for the future.

I became really attached to their memories of their homeland and their dreams. I felt their voices in my head,” Amina recalls. “Sometimes, I imagine how I’d feel if I was a refugee. The answer is probably that I would feel lonely, vulnerable and hopeless even if there were some wonderful people and organizations around me.” She points out that the information translated by the RRTs doesn’t only help refugees; it provides updates about the refugee crisis in multiple languages to anyone who is interested.

Amina reminds us that Nelson Mandela once said ’If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart.’ “TWB definitely speaks to the hearts of refugees,” Amina comments.

“If you have language skills and want to help people in need, you’re most welcome in our team and there are teams for other languages too”

TWB’s goal is to provide people with up-to-date information in a language they can understand and in a format they can access. We aim to close the language gaps. So, do not hesitate to join us and help people for whom your skills are vital.”

Amina has Bachelor’s degree in Translation from Mentouri University of Constantine, Algeria. Since graduating she has worked as a freelance translator for official translation offices in Algeria.

want to volunteer?

Do you want to create your own volunteer story? 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 

Volunteer for 60 minutes per day, and you too can be a hero

Hanan Ben Nafa wishes she had learned about Translators without Borders years ago. “I’ve always been interested in translation, but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t think twice about it once the opportunity came along.” Now, she spends 60 minutes working for TWB each day.

volunteering 60 minutes per day

As a member of the TWB Rapid Response Translation Team, Hanan now spends around an hour each day translating and editing crisis response content from English to Arabic.

Volunteering with TWB is instantly rewarding for Hanan, she says, knowing that many refugees will be helped by the information that she translates. The most satisfying work, she feels, has been short texts that give detailed instructions to refugees on specific issues such as where to find their registration number or where their full-registration appointments will be held.

Such information is very basic,” Hanan says, “yet it’s crucial and needs to be correct so that the refugees feel that their case is progressing. In such situations, I am sure that our help is going to have an instant impact on someone’s well-being.”

personal gains

Having the opportunity to help others is exciting for Hanan, but she is also enthusiastic about what she gains from it personally. She believes that she has become a better translator and editor, and also feels more aware of the refugee situation.

Before, I honestly did not follow news related to refugees very closely,” she confesses. “The articles we work on are usually not found on mainstream news portals, so I have the chance to read updates about the refugee crisis and what is being done to address it. Now I’m more informed and have more empathy.”

In 2009, Hanan moved from Libya to the United Kingdom, where she is currently completing a PhD in Sociolinguistics. When she first arrived in England, her English language skills were, as she says, “adequate”, but she struggled a lot with the regional accent. Even though now she is fluent in English, Hanan still faltered recently when she was a patient in the Accident and Emergency unit of her local hospital. She realized how stress can affect one’s ability to communicate clearly, and found herself wondering how a patient who does not speak the local language might feel in such a situation.

“Being in hospital made me realise that there is nothing luxurious about providing refugees with information in their first language. They need it to be able to make informed decisions about their lives”

Hanan knows that her occasional frustrations with English are different to the frustration a refugee might feel when they cannot communicate with an asylum officer, for example.

While my frustration was triggered by a need for integration, theirs is triggered by a need for survival,” she says. “I cannot imagine how refugees feel, waiting in front of closed doors and borders with no acknowledgement of their right for a peaceful life. The last thing they should be facing is more distress because of a lack of correct information that could be easily solved with some collaboration and patience.“

Want to volunteer?

Do you want to join Hanan for 60 minutes – or just any minute – translating for TWB? Apply for a position in our volunteer translator community here.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

On International Translation Day, we celebrate translators

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.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Border volunteer