“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.”
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.
By Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer