How To: Make a Difference from a Distance

Born in Iran, but now a US citizen, Translators without Borders (TWB) volunteer Mehrnaz Kuros has a degree in business administration, and considerable experience working in the corporate sector. She is well aware that many of the refugees she sees on television have similar qualifications and experience to herself. That is why she decided to make a difference from a distance.

Desperate to help

Like many of us, when Mehrnaz saw the first television and print images of refugees bound for Europe, she was shocked and sad. She realized that many of them had been forced into this action by circumstances well beyond their control. “It is unbelievable, how people give up everything and risk their lives, to begin a new life, in a new world.”

It all comes down to politics,” she notes. “For some people, being in power blinds them to the inherent value of people, nature, heritage, and humanity.”

Mehrnaz was determined to help those affected by political turmoil.

“I thought that by cooperating with Translators without Borders, I could play a small part in helping migrants and refugees. I wish the best for them”

Mehrnaz’s daughter sent her a link to a site that talked about the work of TWB to help refugees affected by the crisis in Europe. With considerable experience translating between English and Farsi, Mehrnaz was quick to volunteer her skills and join TWB’s Rapid Response Translation (RRT) team.

Helping from a distance

Several times a week, Mehrnaz connects remotely with TWB team members and volunteers to identify the material that she can translate. She does all of the translation remotely, even while she is traveling.

Being able to communicate in other languages is important to Mehrnaz. She believes that it helps her to relate to people from different nations and to stay informed about news and current affairs. Her language skills enable her, through translation, to help other people to adjust to new conditions, environments, and societies. One of the most satisfying translations Mehrnaz has completed for TWB was a text regarding the EU-Turkey deal, which negotiated in March 2016. While she was aware of the many challenges the deal presented, she saw it as at least a framework for responding. She was happy to be able to communicate it to people who, until then, had operated in an environment of uncertainty, rumor, and chaos.

Clearly affected by what she describes as “the modern exodus,” Mehrnaz remains optimistic about addressing it. “It’s so sad to read the news – and it’s somehow unbelievable – to have had so many disasters in the 21st century. I hope things will move in a better direction and crises can be solved.”

Want to volunteer?

With dedicated volunteers like Mehrnaz working from a distance, there is always hope that things will indeed change for the better. Sign up to be a Rapid Response Volunteer with Translators without Borders now.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

“Freedom and safety shouldn’t be taken for granted in our world”

Inspired by the pain and suffering prevailing in many parts of the world, Ali Bai looked for an opportunity to help others. He had the feeling that he should do something – anything – to help the refugees he saw every day on television. However, he also felt that government assistance in emergency situations was too often bureaucratic and political, so he wanted to be part of a non-governmental humanitarian response. As a full-time translator and proofreader, Ali decided that Translators without Borders (TWB) was an obvious way for him to help people in need. So he joined our Rapid Response Team.

Joining the TWB Rapid Response Team

Ali has a BA in English Translation and an MA in General Linguistics, so he puts his training and translation experience to good use in TWB’s Rapid Response Translation Team (RRT). He now has the sense that he is making a timely contribution.

Translators have to work very fast in the RRT, while also maintaining a high level of quality and accuracy,” he explains. “I am lucky to have great co-workers and the environment is really welcoming. We all are dedicated to the purpose and we help each other in translating and editing.”

Ali’s tasks include translating texts from English to his native Farsi. The volunteer work is satisfying for Ali because he knows that every translation can make a positive difference in the lives of other humans. Of course, translating good news that gives promise to refugees is his favorite type of job and always gives him the greatest satisfaction.

putting yourself In their shoes

Like many of TWB’s volunteers, Ali fits his RRT work around his full-time job and other commitments. He often imagines life as a refugee who has lost loved ones in a war, and he thinks about how it must feel to decide to then risk traveling by sea to a safer country. He imagines the devastation that refugees must feel when they finally arrive on a foreign beach, only to realize that the food and shelter they desperately need is not immediately accessible due to language barriers.

I think providing refugees with material in their own languages not only helps them address their immediate challenges, but also makes them feel safe and that someone cares about them,” Ali says. He points out that refugees who have already experienced much pain and suffering are exposed to a kind of “second victimization” when they arrive in Europe. He asks,

“How can they make reasonable decisions without access to a familiar language?”

Ali, an Iranian, points out that his country has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the past few decades. He is conscious of the positive impact they have had on his country’s economy.

These fellow human beings shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the integrity of European communities,” Ali insists. “I think by accepting and welcoming refugees, Europe can make an economic opportunity out of this crisis, while making life safer for refugees. Furthermore, we should always remember that any one of us might lose our home or family; freedom and safety shouldn’t be taken for granted in our world.”

Want to volunteer?

You can apply to become a part of the TWB Rapid Response team here.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer

“His head was just above the water; it felt like his eyes were looking at me”

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’s blog

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.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders Volunteer 

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

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

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

Joining the TWB European Refugee Crisis project

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

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

lend a hand and make a difference

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

Translation has become a tool to make a difference

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

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

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

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

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

The importance of volunteers

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

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

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

A voice for both sides

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.”

Blog AuthorBy Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer 

Making a difference to those affected by crisis

Volunteer translatorBashir Baqi

“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.


volunteer profileOmid Xadem

 “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.

practical TranslatiONS

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.

“My work can wait, but refugees can’t”

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”

Joining TWB

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.

Blog authorBy Marketa Sostakova, Translators without Borders volunteer

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

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


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

Q: What inspired you to volunteer for TWB?

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

Q: How long have you been volunteering?

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

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

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

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

A: I translate from English into Italian.

Q: What types of texts have you translated?

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

Q: Have you learnt anything while translating for TWB?

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

Join TWB

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

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, translators without Borders volunteer