Translators without Borders is more than a nonprofit organization: Translators without Borders is a community. Today we volunteers number around 3000 strong, and we represent hundreds of language combinations. All of us, whether we speak Amharic, Portuguese or Zulu, whether we come from the global south or the global north, have one thing in common: we are using our language knowledge and skills to make humanitarian work more effective.
I’ve loved watching this community come together to provide literally millions of words of translations each year to help close to 500 nonprofit organizations such as Action against Hunger, Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health and Kiva. The translations donated allow these and many more nonprofits to help more people.
In addition to our registered volunteers, a second auxiliary community has now formed around Translators without Borders: a community of translators who are part of the diaspora and who come together when their country is in a crisis. In the last few years I’ve seen communities of volunteers come together to help in natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, epidemics and typhoons. Filipino translators came together to provide translations to help rescue people after Super Typhoon Haiyan; West Africans translated Ebola posters and videos; and Nepalese translators made sure that safety messages sent out countrywide in the aftermath of the earthquake were in the right language.
Translations in disaster situations are saving lives, and today strong communities of translators are being forged which are capable of springing into action if the need arises. Now Translators without Borders is piloting a rapid response network in two East African languages – Swahili and Somali – so that they are ready if needed.
Translation is critical for communicating with communities in a disaster. Translation is also essential for democratizing access to all kinds of knowledge. To increase access to knowledge for the billions of people who do not speak a European language, Translators without Borders has started another community initiative: training community translators. From a centre in Nairobi, Kenya, Translators without Borders is training local people speaking local languages to bring down the language barriers to knowledge for their own communities.
Translators without Borders may be known as a charity, but really what we are is the world’s largest language community dedicated to humanitarian relief.