How I found meaning in my career

Volunteering with TWB is a rewarding and enriching experience.

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.

Iris Translator

Iris Soliman sets out to prove that when the cause matters to you, giving back comes naturally. Since early 2018, this translator’s enthusiasm for TWB’s work has shone through in her personal and professional life. Her support for the cause extends far beyond the translation work itself, as Iris has thrown herself into TWB’s Kató Community forum and social media platforms. Driving TWB’s vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers is a dedicated community of translators. They all volunteer because of a shared set of values: they believe in the need to make information available in languages that people understand. Iris embodies the energy and passion shared by many TWB translators.

Advancing a career in translation

The 35-year-old Belgian translator of Egyptian descent works in English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and French. Iris began her professional translation career five years ago. And in just one year with TWB, she has participated in over 100 projects and translated over 200,000 words. Those words have helped individuals supported by a plethora of organizations including the NEAR network, Concern Worldwide, and Humanity and Inclusion.

Humanity and Inclusion is where Iris began her volunteering career in the Brussels office and in the field, 10 years prior to discovering TWB. More recently, she has been able to achieve a personal goal of translating a text from Arabic to French and participating in numerous meaningful projects.

Iris is touched by the knowledge that her work with TWB makes a real and discernible impact on lives. A fondly remembered translation was for a smartphone app called Miniila, by Missing Children Europe. The app provides migrant children with information about their rights and the services available to them on their arrival in Europe. In a separate project, she learned that important vaccine stocks in Syria had to be destroyed because they were in a location occupied by Daesh. For Iris, these translations are personal reminders of her lucky situation, while others sometimes struggle to meet basic needs.

Iris Translator

“Now I hope I’ll help all kinds of people – elderly, grownups or children – particularly those fleeing conflict, starvation or natural disasters.”


As an engaged member of the TWB community, Iris is thankful for the knowledge-sharing, the friendly environment and the opportunity to help others while gaining humanitarian experience.

Fitting TWB volunteering into a busy life.

Though she is busy, Iris finds time to dedicate to her volunteer work. For her it is about so much more than doing a job: she is part of a thriving community. While still volunteering for TWB regularly, Iris is completing various online courses and preparing for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Chinese proficiency examination. 

Iris hopes that her energetic approach to the translator community will encourage other translators to join. For anyone who is curious, she offers words of advice: “You can always ask the project managers questions (they are more than simply available). And don’t worry if you need to double check, make corrections, or have your work revised. I was like you less than a year ago!” This is all part of her endless desire to make a difference and grow professionally.

“Iris has contributed a substantial number of words on TWB’s translation platform, Kató. But what really distinguishes her is the great enthusiasm she is showing in the Kató Community” Paulina Abzieher, Translation Project Manager for TWB.

If you, too, share our values, apply to join TWB’s translator community today.

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 Iris Soliman, Translator for Translators without Borders. Cover photo by Karim Ani.

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.

Beyond translation: Maysa’s far-reaching contribution

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.

This month’s featured translator works in two of the most widespread languages in the world: English is an official language across 59 countries, while Modern Standard Arabic is the lingua franca in 26 countries. Arabic and its many varieties are the mother tongue of 310 million people in the Arab world, parts of Latin America, and Western Europe.

Maysa Orabi

For Maysa, joining TWB made sense: “I rushed to submit my application. I realized that I could finally give a helping hand using what I do best and love the most: translation.”

Maysa Orabi is an invaluable member of the TWB community thanks to her enviable translation skills. By translating into two of TWB’s most common language pairs, English to Arabic and Arabic to English she directly impacts the lives of many. Not only has Maysa translated more than 100,000 words for TWB, but she has also reviewed almost 200 translation tests as a trusted quality reviewer. This enables TWB to recruit new translators, build our language community, and maintain high translation quality.

Telling Human Stories

It was only after joining TWB that Maysa came to realize the magnitude of what she was giving. Maysa is interested in human nature, and our desire for communication and understanding of our world. Yet often, that understanding is only possible thanks to our access to knowledge in a language we understand – and not everyone has that advantage.

Maysa has a deep desire to understand the world, and the hardships faced by many. But she is especially invested in the stories of people living through difficult times. She wants to help them tell their stories:

“They want to have a voice and they need to know they are being heard.”

Translators have chosen to help amplify the voices of others, so Maysa says that translators must be diligent and put their heart and soul into what they translate. With this in mind, she guides the translators she works with whenever she revises their work. Over the last three years, she has reviewed the quality of an additional 50,000 words of translation tests on top of her own translation tasks.

Ferry to Athens,
“Because your words are as important as a warm blanket for a poor child on a cold night.” Maysa Orabi. Photo by Karim Ani.

“As a Jordanian and an Arab, not to mention a human, I was shaken by the events the Arab world witnessed in recent years. I wanted to be present and helpful in any way possible. When vulnerable, displaced, and deprived people cry for help, their suffering is doubled if they cannot communicate with those who want to help them. I want to know there is something I can do.” Maysa Orabi.

And so, Maysa decided to put her efforts, knowledge, and experience into translating for TWB, to prove that language matters.

Still learning

Maysa explains that TWB has given her the chance to gain and develop her skills fast. Her projects remain in the back of her mind while she is working on other translations, and they occupy much of her spare time. The extra experience in translation and lessons in efficiency have honed her professional abilities.

The projects she handles for TWB have also developed her awareness of the world. In particular, she has worked on medical content for Wikipedia and articles for Internews. Those Internews articles touched on the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece and other European countries. They showed her the difficulties faced by people trying to settle in a safe place: tumultuous legal procedures and regulations, uncertain futures, separation from family, an inability to work, and limited access to a proper residence. Her work involved translating questions and concerns, in which she learned of the troubled, inescapable realities of so many people. Maysa describes how those communications revealed the urgency of the situation for many, and the hard time the world is having to contain the ravages of wars.

“A traveler I am, and a navigator, and every day I discover a new region within my soul.” Khalil Gibran

The translating and reviewing work that Maysa does is enormous: it deals with big languages, big issues, and makes a big difference. But its effect is immediate, even life-changing, on a personal level. Individuals and families have been given access to vital information that they might not have had, thanks to Maysa and our community of TWB translators.

“TWB has increased my love for translation and my sense of the significance of what I do; that I translate for a cause.” Maysa Orabi.

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 TWB, with interview responses by Maysa Orabi, Kató translator for TWB. 

United by language: Tigrinya translators use their skills to help others

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 experiences 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.

Two of our top translators of Tigrinya, a language spoken by approximately seven million people, deserve special recognition for the work they did in 2018. Our featured translators, Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, have their roots in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively. But they are united by a common language and their tireless desire to use their skills to support those in need.

Tigrinya is a Semitic language, belonging to the same language family as Amharic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Maltese. It is widely spoken in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia, and by immigrant communities in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and parts of Europe.

Eritrea Landscape, Ghinda
Ghinda, Eritrea.

Missing Children Europe  

Tigrinya was one of the most important marginalized languages at TWB in 2018, primarily because of our partners’ work with refugees. For example, Missing Children Europe works with refugee youth in Europe who are unaccompanied; Tigrinya is one of the most important languages for this work. Kalayu and Kidane both contributed to the Missing Children Europe work, giving hope to people who have been forced from home due to poverty, hunger, persecution, discrimination, civil war, or unemployment. Young people and displaced or unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable in such situations. They need to be able to report problems and to know their rights and responsibilities. They cannot do any of that without information in a language they understand.

Kalayu knows how important it is to ensure communication does not become a barrier to humanitarians providing safety. Language mediators are crucial. So the documents provided by our Tigrinya translators can be life-changing.

Kidane, too, sees it as a privilege to work with an organization like Missing Children Europe: to know he is supporting young children, and that the work he does is valuable.

A translator’s journey: taking refuge and delivering safety with words

Kidane now works from his home office in Buffalo, New York translating from English to Tigrinya. The dedicated volunteer prides himself on communication and a desire to help others, hence his enthusiasm for working with TWB. Since joining in April 2018, Kidane has completed 60 tasks, amounting to 32,000 words.

“At one time in my life, I was a refugee. So, I understand what it is like to be in an unfamiliar country, facing a language barrier and other challenges. When I work with people in that situation, I understand what they are going through and it makes me happy to help them,” Kidane Haile, Translator

In 2010, Kidane arrived in the United States with refugee status. For four years he worked part-time, studied full-time, and worked on his English fluency. It was then that he realized his knowledge of Tigrinya and English opened up an opportunity to work and help the community simultaneously. Now he works as a full-time interpreter, though he never forgets where his journey began:

“I often think about making life easier for people who start in a new country and need help communicating and understanding their new situation, the way I was years ago.”

Kalayu, the second of our spotlighted Tigrinya translators, works in the same language pair from his home in Ethiopia. This busy volunteer has translated almost 30,000 words across 17 tasks since he joined TWB in October 2018. He continually aims to serve and provide for others through improved communications.

Kalayu
Kalayu Menasbo, Translator

And his dedication to the mission is evident: Kalayu often works late into the night to complete translation tasks, without the convenience of a home laptop.

In fact, the keen reader and ex-radio journalist wears many charitable hats: he also works for World Vision Ethiopia, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable children and families. In his various roles, he creates safe, protected environments by translating vital information into local languages.

Beyond TWB

Kidane’s experience with TWB has expanded his written translation skills and helped him to take on work outside of his primary field of interpretation.

Kalayu explains how working with TWB helped him understand the impact a translation can make:

“I have no money to support people, but I have the skill of translation – a skill that can support those who need it in their daily life.” This revelation has made Kalayu a committed language professional.

Photo by Kalayu. Sunset over the Adwa mountains, Ethiopia.

A translation task may take you a day, but for those who need it, it may serve as a life continuing catalyst,” Kalayu Menasbo.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected].

If you know a second language, and you too want to help build a world where knowledge knows no language barriers, apply here to become a translator for TWB

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, Kató translators for TWB. 

Prison Yoga and Moving Smiles – it all matters to a TWB translator

“You are always learning from your colleagues and sometimes you are asked for advice too.” Patricia Cassoni, translator for Translators without Borders (TWB).  

Patricia CassoniTranslators improve the lives of countless individuals, allowing them to access information and knowledge in their own language. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers.

TWB’s virtual community of translators possesses a range of experiences. Kató, the translation platform used by TWB, gives volunteers the opportunity to develop their skills and professional networks while working on impactful projects for nonprofit organizations. Those organizations trust us to provide accurate translations, often in short timeframes. We are grateful for all of our volunteers, and we love sharing their stories.  

Part of the community

Today, the spotlight falls on Patricia Cassoni, one of our most active Kató translators, who has been volunteering with us since 2012. Working from Portuguese to Spanish and English to Spanish, she has completed nearly 300 tasks, amounting to over 360,000 words. Patricia is excited to be part of the community of translators. “I like to meet people through the platform,” she told us, “because, more or less, we have the same intentions and interests of living in a better and fairer world.

Prison Yoga Project

Patricia’s varied and meaningful work has aided the efforts of organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), International Organization for Migration, and Operation Smile. With Operation Smile, Patricia has translated potentially lifesaving information for professionals, families, and children around the world. This helps ensure that those born with cleft conditions receive the level of care that Operation Smile aims to provide, no matter what language they speak.

Patricia’s work has helped to improve hundreds if not thousands of lives. She feels that translating allows her to develop her motivation for helping people.

“It keeps me in permanent contact with the real world,” she says. “As a translator, it is very rewarding to use my knowledge to help those who need it.”

Prison yoga project

Patricia has worked on projects you might never have imagined, using her translation skills to shape lives in every sense of the word. One project that is particularly dear to her is a book translation for the Prison Yoga Project, an organization that works to bring yoga and mindfulness to American prisons. The nonprofit organization trains yoga instructors, produces instructional materials, and teaches classes in detention and rehabilitation centers. It also provides support programs for released inmates, with the ultimate goal of reducing their likelihood of reoffending.

Prison Yoga ProjectPrison Yoga Project

Within TWB’s community of Kató translators, Patricia is both mentor and student, sharing her knowledge and skills with colleagues, and also benefiting from their experiences too. 

“Belonging to TWB’s community of Kató translators is very interesting,” she recounts. “Once, a judicial translator from California contacted me and asked my opinion about her work. It was funny because I had been a judicial translator for fifteen years and this girl did not know it.” Patricia is an excellent example of how participating in the TWB’s community can not only benefit volunteer translators but how it can also make the world feel like a smaller, less divided place.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, and to leave feedback please join the discussion here, or send an email to [email protected].

To join TWB’s community of Kató translators, please apply here.

 

Photos by Robert Sturman, robertsturmanstudio.com, for the Prison Yoga Project. 

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Patricia Cassoni, Kató translator for TWB.

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 

 

Translation: hope during times of crisis

In 1922 Charoula Samara’s grandparents fled their home country and arrived as refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. Charoula was born and raised on the same island that welcomed her grandparents. She grew up hearing about their perilous journey across the Aegean Sea, and how they arrived carrying little more than hope for a safer life. There are many similarities between her grandparents’ story and the stories of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have landed on Lesvos in the past two years.

Charoula was horrified to see such tragedy unfold on her own island, but she was inspired by the memory of her grandparents. She looked for ways she could help people who had been through a similar experience to her own family.

A Translators without Borders (TWB) post on social media gave Charoula the answer. The post called for volunteer translators to support the TWB European Refugee Response program. Having studied translation at the Ionian University on Corfu, Charoula knew she had found the right opportunity for her. Her English and Greek language skills would be valuable during the escalating crisis on Lesvos, and she could gain translation experience at the same time.

“As a junior translator, there are few opportunities to get involved in projects of the scale and significance of those managed by the TWB,” Charoula explains. She jumped at the chance to become involved. Her grandparents’ experience gave her an added incentive to make a difference.

Helping local people understand an unfamiliar and constantly changing situation.

The material she translates is varied, reflecting the complexity of the situation. On Lesvos, it has been important to make sure the local population has information in their own language too. Translating material between English and Greek, as Charoula has done, has helped local people understand an unfamiliar and constantly changing situation.

Language matters, because it gives people a clearer understanding of their position and their options.

Language empowers them to make informed decisions in times of uncertainty, when fear can dominate. Without accurate information, fear can quickly escalate to panic. Without volunteers like Charoula, TWB could not provide potentially life-saving information to people who are uncertain and afraid.

“Language defines us as humans, because it describes and explains the world around us,” Charoula observes. “When faced with the unknown, we need the situation explained to us in simple words to help us process it and act on it. When we cannot understand the language around us, we feel cut off from the world, unable to judge a situation or make informed decisions.”

The most satisfying translation she has been involved in with TWB was for an issue of In the Loop. It contained reactions from the refugees themselves, not from politicians or non-profit organizations. It gave the refugees their own voice, and provided a refreshing point of view for Charoula.

Charoula’s experience as a TWB volunteer has given her a greater understanding of the importance of those voices, and the value of providing hope. She recalls seeing two refugee girls playing in front of their tent, among hundreds of others, in the municipal garden of Mytilini. Their parents watched them lovingly. At first, that scene gave Charoula an intense feeling of helplessness.

“But then, that negative feeling was replaced by the positive power of hope; because there is nothing more innocent and hopeful than children playing without a care in the world, despite the hell they have been through.”

TWB, with the help of volunteers like Charoula, will continue to give hope to people in crisis. We’d love you to join us. Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, editor for Translators without Borders and volunteer writer 

We can be heroes!

“It is very nice being a small part of TWB’s humanitarian efforts worldwide.”

The skills that Jacek Sierakowski, MD,  brings to Translators without Borders (TWB) are invaluable. Since he first became involved with TWB in 2010 as an English to French translator, he has contributed over 500,000 words of translation – an extraordinary achievement and a significant contribution to TWB’s mission to increase access to information to more vulnerable people in the world. In the true spirit of volunteerism, Jacek has generously and freely lent his medical and language expertise to TWB since 2010. In early 2017, he was awarded the TWB Access to Knowledge ‘Empowerment’ Award in recognition of his significant contribution to training new translators in Guinea.

A special affection for Africa

Jacek explains that he grew up in Africa and had always intended to return to work there when he finished his medical training. This didn’t happen, but he maintained his deep interest in the continent and has been able to contribute his medical expertise through his translation work with TWB, which has been remarkably varied.  

One significant project was during the Ebola crisis in West Africa (2014 – 15). Dr. Sierakowski’s work translating research about the Ebola vaccine, and educational material about the virus for the World Health Organization, was a crucial contribution to the response. Given the dearth of information in local languages in West Africa at the time of the outbreak when more than 11,000 people died, and nearly 29,000 were infected, getting information translated into French which could then be translated into local languages, was very important to the response. Jacek has also translated information on yellow fever, the plague, and other diseases, in addition to presentations about medical care in Haiti, and medical advice for African health workers and parents.  

The mentoring work Jacek did for the training of translators in Guinea was particularly significant for him. The new translators were mentored by professional translators as they translated valuable health information for frontline health care workers in Guinea. Jacek found it very satisfying to be able to share his experiences with younger generations.  Jacek explains, “I am approaching the end of my career, but I want to stay active and involved. Working with TWB seems like a good, stress-free, and useful option. I’m impressed by the organization’s rapid responses to humanitarian emergencies. The project managers are friendly and helpful, and there is no competition. It is a pleasant change from my day job.

Meaningful work

Living in Belgium and holding a medical license, Jacek started translating in 1975 as a young doctor when he had ‘few patients and a lot of free time.’ He says that he progressively self-proclaimed himself a medical translator-writer (translating into and writing in French), and has been doing this full-time since 2002.

When I asked Jacek about how, as a translator, he thinks language plays a role in humanitarian response, he answered thoughtfully: “Thinking about it, translators play a not insignificant role in humanitarian aid, whether it is translating into a traditionally more well-resourced  language, like French, to foster wider understanding, or into a local language to reach out to the vast majority of patients and care providers. Unfortunately, my Swahili, Kikongo, and Lingala are rusty, but I can pass the baton to my French-speaking colleagues on the ground in countries where they speak those languages.”

On being a volunteer

By any measure, the amount of volunteering Jacek has provided to TWB is enormous and it sets him as one of the highest-performing TWB translators in terms of words translated. On that note, he had some advice for other volunteers: “If I were to offer advice to other volunteers on how to balance a day job and volunteer work so as to make volunteering sustainable and successful, I would say that, except in urgent situations, TWB deadlines are reasonable, comfortable and flexible; it is not a problem to combine the two.” And, of course, there are the lighter moments: “It may sound silly; one of my fondest memories came at a TWB video conference on the HEAT Guinea project when I could hear roosters crowing in the background. It vividly reminded me of my youth in Africa!

Thanks, Jacek, for your dedication to the TWB mission; your work has benefitted countless people.


Click here to become a TWB volunteer translator.

Blog AuthorBy Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer

Making sense in difficult times

Happy and carefree.

Two words many of us use to describe our childhood. Sadly, these aren’t universal descriptors of childhood. Children growing up in war-torn countries are more likely to recall early years filled with suffering and unhappiness. This is Najmeh Mojtahedpour’s experience.
Now Najmeh is using her background to help others. We spoke to her to learn more about her role as an online volunteer translator with Translators without Borders (TWB).

Najmeh tell us a little about your childhood

I was born in Esfahan, Iran in 1980. A week later, Iraqi forces invaded, leading to the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. My childhood memories center on bombing and destruction. Sadly, I remember families devastated by hunger and death, homes reduced to rubble, and people living in fear and despair.

What prompted you to seek a volunteer role helping refugees?

My background has given me a strong sense of empathy for the refugees of the 21 st century. When I see those poor people stuck in other countries, I remember my own childhood and I understand how they feel. A three-year-old boy who drowned at sea when his family was fleeing war-torn Syria was my catalyst for change. The image of Ailan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach galvanized me into action. I was determined to find a way to help people like Ailan and his family.

How did you come to be a TWB volunteer?

Initially, I wanted to provide more hands-on aid, but as an Iranian citizen, there was no way I could travel to provide on-the-ground assistance. I shared my frustrations with a friend who was working with the Translators without Borders’ Rapid Response Team (RRT). My friend explained that the RRT is a virtual team of volunteer translators that provides translations for refugees so they have information in a language they understand. It didn’t take much to convince me that providing remote translation support was one way I could make a very real difference to the lives of refugees.

“I wish I could do more for them but for now, translation is the only thing I can do”

How do you balance work and volunteering?

One of the benefits of providing assistance online is that there is little disruption to my life. I’m based in Mashhad, Iran, and work in IT administration. By volunteering remotely, I can do my job and translate for TWB in my spare time.

Tell us a bit about what you do for TWB

I translate Rumours information sheets (prepared by TWB’s partner, Internews) into my native Farsi. This gives refugees clarity and certainty on issues that might otherwise be misrepresented through hearsay and misinformation. I also translate general media articles so that refugees have insight into relevant local media stories. Even something as simple as weather forecasts, can provide vital knowledge to refugees.

How would you describe your contribution?

I’m acutely aware of the need for accurate translation and how important it is to supply that. Having lived through a war, I can be frustrated by what I see as a lack of progress in the refugee crisis. The rational solutions to Europe’s refugee crisis have long been laid out. What is lacking is not a script, but its implementation. I need to frequently remind myself that what I’m doing is helping individuals through uncertain situations while they wait for the solutions to be enacted.

Language is essential to every aspect and interaction in our everyday lives so providing information in a language that refugees can readily understand is vital. We use language to inform people of what we feel, what we desire, and to question and understand the world around us. In a stressful situation, it’s especially important for refugees and migrants to have information available in their language, so they can make sense of the situation. My contribution ensures that refugees have access to information that makes their lives easier.

What advice would you give anyone interested in offering support?

I would advise anyone interested in offering assistance from a distance to focus on what they can do to help. Even though you are not working on-the-ground, you are actively contributing and playing an invaluable role during crisis response scenarios.

Would you like to join Najmeh as a rapid response volunteer?

Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

By Kate Murphy and Angela Eldering (www.scribinghand.com), Translators without Borders Volunteers

Geospatial analyst by day; Humanitarian at heart

It was the TEDx talk Ebola: a crisis of language given by Rebecca Petras (Deputy Director of Translators without Borders), that first caught Carole Mrad’s attention. The talk highlighted the vital role that language can play in saving lives. Right away this inspired Carole who, being a speaker of Arabic, decided to join the Arabic Rapid Response Translation (RRT) team, a key element of TWB’s response to the European refugee crisis in Greece.

“Communication is a key and crucial element in any humanitarian crisis. One word in the right language could make a significant difference and save people’s lives.”

Carole’s translation of media roundups, the Rumours fact sheets and guidance on asylum application procedures in Europe, has been a valuable contribution to the response and has likely provided much comfort for those affected by the crisis. One of her favorite assignments as a member of the RRT was to translate a news article on the Love-Europe mobile app. The new app is designed to help refugees navigate and communicate in Europe. “Love-Europe is a positive and innovative application to help refugees in Germany and the Netherlands access assistance in those countries,” Carole explains. “An update is being developed that will connect the community of helpers to refugees.”

As Carole sees it…

… Most refugees come from countries where conflict, fear, and oppression force them to flee for their lives. Being unable to communicate, places an extra burden on them when they are already traumatized and struggling to adapt to their new circumstances. When content is not in the right language, refugees are denied access to vital information about basic but essential services.

Carole believes that a common European approach is urgently needed to enhance local and national efforts to effectively respond to the refugee crisis. In Carole’s view, “European countries are facing immense challenges in responding to requests for humanitarian aid, asylum and integration – in terms of housing, language, work and so on,” she explains.

A little more about Carole

A geologist with degrees from the American University of Beirut and the University of Windsor in Ontario, Carole has worked as a geotechnical engineer but is currently freelancing as a geospatial analyst. She also works as a Spanish translator for Twitter and a translator, transcriber, and reviewer for TEDx conferences. In her free time, Carole practices martial arts and is passionate about gender equity in sports. She also has a keen interest in web design, fundraising, wildlife conservation and earth sciences.

Would you like to volunteer? 

Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer