Today Zahlé is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. They have fled the violence of civil war, and now they live in refugee camps and squalid accommodation throughout the city. For many refugees, the written word can be the difference between life and death, hope, and despair. They are desperate for information that will help them understand their options for creating a better future for themselves and their families.
Providing vital information
Zahlé is also home to Alain Alameddine, a volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB). As a translator, Alain understands, perhaps more than most people, that the written word can be particularly powerful and beautiful for refugees. As a member of the TWB Rapid Response Team, he works with aid agencies to translate content from English into Arabic on a weekly (and sometimes even daily) basis, to provide vital information to refugees in languages they can understand.
“Most Syrian refugees only speak Arabic, and so they are often at a loss as to what to do with the information that is available to them, for the simple reason that it is in a language they do not understand,” he explains.
“A quick translation can make a huge difference”
In addition to Alain’s work as a translator, he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Through his voluntary ministry, he has brought a listening ear and words of comfort to refugees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. “We’ve noticed first-hand that a listening ear is no less important than food and shelter,” Alain says. He often shares the Old Testament words of Isaiah with refugees he visits, Alain quotes ’we are pained, God is pained’.
One of Alain’s most frequently shared Bible quotes is one written on the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations in New York. It refers to a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. We can only begin to imagine what those words mean to people who have fled violent conflict and persecution.
Giving new hope
In his work with refugees, Alain sees that words like these give refugees hope that things will change for the better. He has also gained new insights into himself and the world. “I am now more aware of the trials refugees face, the doubts and fears they might have, and the ways they can react to them,” he tells us. “As a translator, I am also now more aware of the importance of talking, writing and translating in a style that is easy to understand rather than using technical or pompous language.”
It seems that in Alain Alameddine, the city of Zahlé has produced yet another man who understands the power and beauty of the written word, and who is willing to use it to help people in need.
By Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer