TWB is incredibly lucky to have many dedicated volunteer translators who play a vital role in the translation of content for those affected by crises around the world. Some of our crisis response translators have been good enough to take time out of their busy schedules to tell us about their motivations and experience of working with TWB.
You can read the full version of these interviews on the Translators without Borders blog.
Ali Bai – “Freedom and safety shouldn’t be taken for granted in our world.” Ali Bai had the feeling that he should do something to help the refugees he saw every day on television. As a full-time translator and proof-reader, he decided that Translators without Borders was an obvious way for him to help people in need. “Translators have to work very fast in the Rapid Response Translation Teams (RRT), while maintaining quality and accuracy,” he explains. “I am lucky to have great co-workers. We all help each other in translating and editing.” Ali’s tasks include translating texts from English to Farsi, and he fits his RRT work around his full-time job and other commitments. “I think providing refugees with material in their own languages not only help 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 refugees over the past few decades. He has seen the positive impact they have had on his country’s economy. Ali has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Hanan Ben Nafa – “The last thing refugees should be facing is more distress because of a lack of correct information.” In 2009 Hanan Ben Nafa moved from Libya to the United Kingdom, where she is currently completing a PhD in Sociolinguistics. As a member of our Rapid Response Team, she spends around an hour each day translating and editing from English to Arabic. She finds volunteering with TWB instantly rewarding, knowing that many refugees will be helped by the information that is translated. Having the opportunity to help others is exciting for Hanan, but she is equally enthusiastic about what she gains from it personally. She believes she has become a better translator and editor, and also feels more aware of the refugee situation. “I honestly did not used to follow news related to refugees very closely,” she confesses. “Now I have the chance to read updates about the refugee crisis and what is being done to address it; I’m more informed and have more empathy.” She continues: “I cannot imagine how refugees feel, waiting in front of closed doors and borders with no acknowledgement of their right for a peaceful life. The last thing they should be facing is more distress because of a lack of correct information that could be easily solved with some collaboration and patience." Hanan has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Roya Khoshnevis - “Language can open doors to exhausted and hopeless people.” In September 2015, millions of people around the world were appalled at the image of a police officer carrying the body of two-year-old Syrian refugee across a Turkish beach. Roya Khoshnevis cried when she saw the photograph. At the time, her son was a similar age to Alan. “The death of that baby boy was a big shock for me,” she recalls. “So I tried to find a way to help these people and their children. I wanted to help the refugees, and Translators without Borders let me do that through their (Rapid Response Translation) team.” Roya lives in Mashhad, Iran, where she works as an English teacher and translator.As part of our RRT team of volunteers, Roya spends up to two hours a day translating material from English to her native Farsi. The translations are then made available to refugees after they arrive in Europe. “Many of these refugees are ordinary people who are not able to speak any other language except their mother tongue. As translators we must help them to see the world through their language,” she says. “Language can open doors to exhausted and hopeless people.” Roya has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Mehrnaz Kuros - “I can play a small part in helping these migrants and refugees.” Born in Iran, but now a US citizen, Mehrnaz Kuros is well aware that many of the refugees she sees on television are victims of circumstances beyond their own control. “It all comes down to politics,” she believes. “For some people, being in power blinds them to the inherent value of people, nature, heritage, humanity. I thought that by cooperating with Translators without Borders, I could play a small part in helping these migrants and refugees. I wish the best for them.” With considerable experience translating between English and Farsi, Mehrnaz is a much-valued member of our Rapid Response Translation (RRT) team. Being able to communicate in different languages is important to Mehrnaz; it helps her to relate to people and to stay informed about current affairs. Her own language skills enable her, through translation, to help people to adjust to new conditions, environments and societies. One of the most satisfying translations Mehrnaz has completed for Translators without Borders was a text regarding the EU-Turkey deal. While she was aware of the many challenges the deal presented, she saw it as a framework for responding. She was happy to be able to communicate it to people who, until then, had faced only uncertainty, rumours and chaos. Mehrnaz has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Alain Alameddine - “A quick translation can make a huge difference.”Alain Alameddine is a volunteer with Translators without Borders. He works remotely, translating content from English into Arabic. The translations provide vital information to refugees who have traveled to Europe during the recent European refugee crisis. Based in Zahlé in Lebanon, 30 kilometers from the Syrian border, Alain has regular contact with some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have sought refuge in his home town. “Most Syrian refugees only speak Arabic and so are often at loss as to what to do even though the information is right there, because it is in a language they do not understand,” he explains. “A quick translation can make a huge difference.” Alain is also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, working with refugees as part of a voluntary ministry. He often uses words from the Bible to comfort refugees he visits. One of Alain’s favorite quotes refers to a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Working with refugees has given Alain valuable new insights. “I am now more aware of the trials refugees face, and their doubts and fears,” he explains. “I understand the importance of talking, writing and translating in a style that is easy to understand, rather than using technical or pompous language.” Alain has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Maria Roussou, Cyprus “Translation is my passion and knowing that it can help people in need, it’s twice the pleasure.” Based in Nicosia, Cyprus, Maria Roussou is a member of the Rapid Response Team for Greek, providing English-to- Greek translations. She and the rest of the team primarily translate news articles regarding the refugee crisis for residents of Greece: the situation at the borders and the way each country and the EU are dealing with it. Since her country is at the forefront of the crisis, Maria was strongly motivated to help: “The refugee crisis is yet another international disaster. I cannot begin to think what all those people are going through, physically and emotionally. Helping the refugees should not be considered as volunteering, but as an obligation.” She believes that information in their native language can greatly empower refugees, who are already in such a vulnerable position, and are facing numerous challenges and obstacles. Maria is also keenly aware of the importance of balancing speed and quality in urgent situations: “As soon as you pick up a document or a part of it, you are committed to deliver it as soon as possible, with the best possible quality,” she explains. Maria has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Seham Abdou Ebied from Egypt - “In the world of translation, you have to be quick. My work can wait, but refugees can’t.” TWB’s volunteer translator Seham Abdou Ebbed is Egyptian, and remembers the influx of refugees in her town as soon as the Syrian revolution broke out. Those people told her stories of war and destruction, about their children and relatives being killed in front of their eyes. Many of the refugees she met had fled their homes and walked all the way to Turkey before coming to Egypt. “The images I’ve seen in media, of drowned children and adults - I kept thinking to myself that they are escaping from one death to another,” says Seham. Seham is a member Rapid Response Team for Arabic. As part of a larger team, she communicates with other members through Skype, which they use to share files for translation. “Translation for NGOs and refugees needs to be prompt, as there are new documents every hour. Sometimes I have other translation work to do, but when I receive a translation request for TWB, I think: my regular work can wait, but refugees can’t. What a wonderful feeling it is to do something for humanity, and to relieve someone in distress.” Seham has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Narges Rasouli, (Canada) - “As long as every one of us does something - no matter how small - we can hope for a better future.” Narges Rasouli was deeply touched by the events and stories of the refugees when she joined Translators without Borders. Recently moved to Canada from Iran, Narges is part of the Rapid Response Team for Farsi, a dedicated group of professional and community translators. Acts of kindness and a desire to volunteer goes back to Narges’ childhood memories of when her parents found a little girl sleeping on the stairs near the roof of their building complex. “My mom took care of her, washed her, gave her some of my clothes, and called child services. Her condition was a hard blow for me. I was living a perfect life, with caring parents who spoiled me with piano lessons and the best clothes, while here was this girl, not even having a place to stay. Being the same age as she was, 9 or 10, I had a lot of sympathy with her.” Stories of refugee children strongly remind Narges of this girl: “I can’t possibly be ignorant of children’s problems because no child deserves to live through such a tragedy. As a translator, I am here for those little kids, walking in the cold, without being able to go to school and without enough food and warm clothes.” As a woman living in Iran, Narges had only very limited opportunities to volunteer, but she believes any opportunity to act can make a difference. “As long as every one of us does something - no matter how small - we can hope for a better future.” Since September 2015, Narges has been part of the Rapid Response Team and has translated between 300 and 1000 words a day into Farsi. When days are busy, Narges also invites some of her friends to help translate for RTT: “We are all doing our best to finish all the projects we receive. The projects do need a lot of support from translators, it is indeed a rapid response. We usually finish a document in less than 30 minutes!” Narges has dedicated over 100 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Maria Bountali – “His head was just above the water; it felt like his eyes were looking at me” For Maria Bountali, a single photograph set her on a path to Translators without Borders (TWB). The photograph showed a refugee in a desperate situation. “His head was just above the water; it felt like his eyes were looking at me,” she recalls. “He was helpless. He was truly exhausted.” At the time, Maria was struggling with her own personal issues, but she says that the image gave her a new perspective and changed her way of thinking. That’s when she discovered TWB, which gave her the opportunity to help people like the man in the photograph. Maria is now a member of TWB’s Greek Rapid Response Team, translating news articles from the international and the Greek media. She also translates the regular Rumours factsheet for our partner Internews. Giving more people access to information in languages they easily understand, is a critical part of Maria’s work with TWB. Maria has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Alaa Amro -“I am familiar with refugee suffering. I believe that I have to help.” As a Palestinian, Alaa Amro has a deep empathy for people displaced by conflict, and she is strongly driven to support them. A sociology student at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, Alaa wanted to participate constructively in youth activities promoting peace, human rights and tolerance of difference. She believed that improving her translation skills will help her achieve that. So in January, she became a volunteer with TWB’s European Refugee Crisis Rapid Response Team (RRT), translating articles about the refugee crisis from English into Arabic. Alaa understands that communication barriers add to the chaos faced by displaced people. “Most of the refugees who are coming from Syria speak Arabic language and few of them know English.” TWB’s remote translation platform allows Alaa to directly translate articles from international media outlets, weather reports and directions to key locations. “I know that many people are helping refugees, and Translator without Borders gives me the chance to help too. Moreover, I am a Palestinian girl who is familiar with refugee suffering. I believe that I have to help.” Alaa has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Salam Khalifeh - “Translation has become a tool to make a difference” - Salam Khalifeh completed an English Literature degree and a post-graduate diploma in Translation and Interpretation at Damascus University in Syria while civil war ravaged the country. Attending classes was dangerous, and an intermittent supply of electricity and internet access made the situation even more difficult. A few months ago Salam applied to join TWB’s European Refugee Crisis project as a volunteer translator. Her impressive qualifications ensured she was accepted. “Translation has become a tool to make a difference,” Salam says. “TWB unites people from diverse backgrounds to work toward a common goal.” As a Syrian living through the ongoing 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.” Salam knows that language barriers can prevent humanitarian assistance being provided effectively. She believes that translation is an 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.” Salam has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. Read the full interview
Anastasia Petyka -“To me, facilitating communication to make a difference is what I regard as a ‘high goal’, and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.” Anastasia Petyka is scathing in her criticism of the international response to Europe’s refugee crisis. “Refugees have been faced with indifference and abandonment,” she insists. “Europe has shown its cruel face to people in need.” Anastasia is particularly frustrated that her native Greece has been expected to respond while struggling with an economic crisis of its own. “Unfortunately Greece cannot provide the refugees with the support they need to build their lives again. Ultimately we’ve been left alone to cope with the influx of migrants.” But Anastasia has channeled her frustration constructively, volunteering for Translators without Borders (TWB) as a translator during the crisis. She is driven by her strong belief that communicating with refugees in their native language is essential to supporting them. Anastasia helped to translate a Syrian refugee’s experience traveling to Europe. She was shocked to learn that his experience had left him feeling that death would have been preferable to making the journey to Europe. “It illustrated reality, but made me feel deeply sad and ashamed of the way the refugee crisis has been handled,” she admits. “To me, facilitating communication to make a difference is what I regard as a ‘high goal’, and gives me a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.” Anastasia has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Selima ben Chagra- “I think the world has a lot more to offer refugees than it is currently giving them.” With a deep personal interest in human rights, politics and foreign languages, Selima ben Chagra is a freelance translator and interpreter (French-English and Arabic-English) focused on translating and transcreating advertisements and commercials. She earned an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015. Her experience as a translator and interpreter with the United Nations Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Arab States inspired Selima to work in the humanitarian field. Since then her career has reflected her strong interest in international development and cooperation, and a passion for communication. Selina has spent the past fourteen years studying and working in the corporate, non-profit and inter-governmental sectors, including as a teacher of English, French and Arabic. When she heard about TWB’s European Refugee Crisis project, she signed up straight away. “I didn’t really think it through,” she confesses. “I just wanted to help.” “Being a refugee is disorienting enough, but when you add in the feeling of helplessness that comes from an inability to communicate, facilitating understanding becomes even more important,” she told us. Selima has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Rawan Gharib -“Language offers both the charm of communication and the curse of ambiguity.” Rawan Gharib is a freelance translator and a creative writer, with a self-described “obsessive” hobby of music archiving. In addition to TWB, she also volunteers with Global Voices’ Lingua Project. While studying Hispanic Language and Literature at Cairo University, Rawan developed a passion for translation and literature analysis and criticism. Her decision to get involved with TWB was intuitive and her rationale is simple. “I’m a native Arabic speaker, a translator and a human; I felt it was my role to play.” On an almost-daily basis, from her home in Giza in Egypt, Rawan translates media coverage of the European refugee crisis and its consequences into her native Arabic. She also provides refugees with information on issues of more immediate relevance, In addition to things like weather forecasts, she translates information sheets that aim to clearly distinguish between truth and hearsay, and helps raise awareness of the risks of abuse by people smugglers, detention or a forced repatriation. As Rawan notes, “Language tends to be even more tricky and confusing in situations of fear or pressure. …Successful communication in such situations provides additional security, understanding and acceptance; which any refugee or immigrant needs.” Rawan has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Bashir 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. His clients include the Iranian Ministry of Science, the Iranian police department and various publishing companies. Bashir is also a freelance proof-reader and loves walking -- whether by the ocean or through remote jungles. He holds a Masters of Arts in Translation Studies from Iran’s Birjand University and a diploma in English from the Iran Language Institute. For the last few months, Bashir has donated up to twenty hours each week to the European Refugee Crisis 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 has dedicated over 50 hours of volunteering time to Translators without Borders.
Omid Xadem, Baghdad, Iraq - “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 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 belong to anyone and she didn’t speak anything but Arabic. I could see that she wanted help and to keep her dignity by working. And it really moved me,” relates Omid. 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.”