Nairobi and beyond

I have just returned from my twelfth Kenya trip since November 2011. As always it was a great pleasure speaking with our staff and with other stakeholders in Translators without Borders (TWB) Kenya.

In this section I usually report on what the TWB Translators Training Center in Nairobi is doing. In short, over the past months the eight person translation team has been involved in the translation of a 300,000 word corpus of disaster relief documents (our “Words of Relief” project), as well as several other projects. Our team has also recruited and trained a so-called ‘spider network’ of crisis intervention translators for 12 different Kenyan languages. When crises, such as flood, drought, cholera, civil war or Ebola, occur, these translators are asked to drop whatever they are doing and start translating whatever needs to be translated in order to help people survive the crisis.

Although TWB’s translation center in Nairobi is our ‘hub’ for African languages, TWB is also active in other African countries. Recently we have been involved in translating a range of Ebola-related documents into several West African languages, and we also organised two training sessions for translators for ‘Ebola-languages’. The rapid escalation of the Ebola crisis was due in part to a lack of knowledge and lack of clear communication. If people had known, from the start of this outbreak, what to do and what not to do, it is unlikely to have become the such a terrible crisis. Putting up Ebola warning posters in English and French throughout West Africa was clearly not particularly helpful. The people of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the three countries that have been hardest hit, speak a total of 90 languages. English and French are spoken by perhaps 20 percent of those populations. That’s why we recently organized two online training sessions for ‘diaspora translators’ (ex-pats who are willing to translate into their native language). The sessions addressed topics such as ‘What is translation’ and ‘How to translate’, and included tips and tricks for translators, best practices for terminology problems and quality assurance. Ebola warning posters, as well as several leaflets and flyers, have now been translated into the most important languages of the area. We estimate that that has made critical information accessible to almost half the population.

With 14 percent of the world’s population, 28 percent of the world’s health burden, but only 3 percent of the world’s doctors, nurses and clinics, Africa has too many patients and too few doctors. In such a setting, health information and health education are essential. It is a given that the more a person knows about health, the healthier they usually are. TWB provides language support and translations, trains translators, and convinces governments and NGOs that language matters! A relatively small investment in translation has a huge return on investment resulting in fewer visits to doctors and clinics, less disruption of the local economies, and – above all – less human suffering.

TWB is working with African languages because we refuse to accept that people will suffer or die due to a lack of information in their language. We believe that we do this on behalf of the entire translation and localization sector. I am fortunate that my personal situation enables me to dedicate quite a bit of time to this cause. Fellow language service providers who do not have that luxury can support TWB by becoming a sponsor. Ebola is a great example of a crisis that we, as translators, can effectively help fight, but we can’t do it without your support. Please find the Donate button on our website, and be generous.

Simon Andriesen

Director, Translators without Borders


simon@translatorswithoutborders.org