Call for Translation in Kenya’s Kibera Slum

We’ve been invited to Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, to talk about – of all things – translation. “We” refers to a delegation from Translators without Borders consisting of Paula Shannon, Simon and Harriet Andriesen, and myself. Kibera is a place we never expected to find ourselves in. The second largest slum in Africa after Soweto, Kibera is home to approximately 1 million of the poorest people on the planet. Our hosts on this improbable visit are 15 commercial sex workers.

To meet them we have to park in front of the government office and follow the train tracks that squeeze between the stalls displaying plastic buckets, clothes, tin cooking pots, coal. The tracks are so close that when the train goes by on its way to Mombasa or Uganda, it grazes the shanty structures just inches away.

We are late arriving at the drop in clinic run by Family Health Options Kenya and its indomitable manager, Muthoni Gichohi. But cheerful greetings are called out to us as we climb the stairs to the second floor of a tin and wood structure.

The 15 girls – and clearly they are still girls – have been waiting for us in this hot tin room for over an hour. Modestly dressed in tee shirts and jeans, most are still active in the sex industry, but all are also what the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health calls “peer educators”. Their role is to educate other women in the Kibera slum on reproductive health: family planning, nutrition and prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And who better to do this work?

The girls are all natural linguists. They have to be. The average African speaks 3 languages: these girls speak up to 10. Kibera is home to 14 different tribes speaking Kikuyu, Kikamba, Luo, Maasai and of course Swahili, the lingua franca. English is only a third, fourth or fifth language.

The girls are proud of their role as peer educators here, and rightly so. They are on the front lines of the worst health care tragedy in the world. The enemy is lack of information and some of the casualties include rampant HIV infections, a large number of AIDS orphans (50,000 according to UNICEF) and female circumcision affecting up to 100% of the girls in some tribes. According to the Center for Disease Control, as much as 20% of the population is HIV positive. FHOK tells us the HIV rate among their peer educators is less than 1%. Knowledge is everything. This is why Translators without Borders has been invited here today. They need our help to share their knowledge of healthy living.

In a room full of women who are not too shy to say what they think, Mildred is particularly outspoken. She tells us that most of the people they are working with understand little English, yet that is the language of over 90% of their written health materials. “When you teach a woman in her language, she is in a better position to understand,” she points out.

Lydia is the nurse in residence. Just slightly older than the girls, she too is wearing a tee shirt and jeans. She adds “If you have a limited English vocabulary, our material may not make sense. What we need are materials they can understand.” Privacy is an issue, so written translations are particularly important so that brochures may be studied at home.

Sitting by the window in a long flowered dress, one of the girls with braided hair chimes in. “They don’t understand our brochures so when they leave us they just throw them to the ground.” She illustrates this by making a throwing gesture.

The girls are used to working in the drop in center as a group, even though they come from many different tribes and represent most of Kibera’s 14 languages. So they want Translators without Borders to train them as a group so they can translate their brochures into their own mother tongues. After all, they know best how to word their messages. They shine with a sense of mission. “We need to translate our materials so we can prevent them from getting STIs to live a healthy life.” The girls are unequivocal, and more than a little persistent. “With translation, we can prevent more diseases.” And they want our help.

With the objective of translating humanitarian information into the languages people need most, Translators without Borders has been drawn to Africa. However, a dearth of translators in most local languages, even those spoken by tens of millions of people, means that to fulfill our mission we must first pass through capacity building. So here we are talking to Africans about training them to translate for their own people. The demand for our training is far greater than we had ever expected. And we never imagined that we would find requests coming from a roomful of commercial sex workers.

On the other hand, who better to educate their peers than this motivated, determined group? The Department of Health Information agrees with us, but they have no budget and must themselves fight to get the money for a singles computer. If we want to help, we have to find our own way to do so. As we prepare to leave we assure the group we will try to find the funding for some computers and a space to train them in. They ask if we can do this soon, maybe in February or March. More people are infected by the AIDS virus every day, more girls die in unsafe abortions, more children are orphaned. There is a tangible sense of urgency.

We have many challenges,” they tell us, although this is amply clear. “So we hope you can support us.”

I Believe

I believe that for the first time in human history we are capable of sharing knowledge with everyone on this planet, regardless of where they live and what language they speak.

I believe that everything we need to bridge the knowledge divide that separates rich and poor exists today. I believe that now is the time to start dismantling the barriers to build a world where everyone can access the knowledge they need to live healthy and productive lives.

I believe we can do this, and I believe we will do this.

Lest you think I’m starry-eyed and unrealistic, let me tell you how all the pieces are falling into place. Today’s technology is giving us the means to distribute knowledge to the four corners of the world.

Did you know that already in Africa more people have access to a cell phone than have access to a pair of shoes or a toilet? A sobering statistic, but also testament to how important it is to human beings to communicate.

In Africa more people have access to a cell phone than have access to a pair of shoes or a toilet

Think of technology like cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices that are capable of connecting to the Internet. These devices can and will bring all of human knowledge into the hands of every man, woman and child. Price barriers are falling every day, internet connectivity is expanding and off-grid solutions are becoming commonplace. Most importantly, as anyone who has been to the developing world will attest, people there have the will to learn, an absolute drive to learn that may be like nothing you have ever seen before.

The will is there, and barriers are coming down. I believe we can dismantle the last and final barrier: language.

Because knowledge that is in the wrong language is just squiggles on a page or on a screen.

That is why I believe that Translators with Borders can and must take down the barrier of the language last mile. And that is why I believe the time to do this is now.

To get there we need volunteers. We need funds. We need you.

Lori ThickeBy Lori Thicke, founder of Translators without Borders

Language is essential for access to information

Reprinted from the British Medical Journal, Oct. 18, 2011

Language is key to accessing information. Speakers of a dominant language such as English—including most highly educated professionals in developing countries—may easily overlook the fact that the people who most need healthcare information are not likely to have a good understanding of English (or of French, Spanish, or Portuguese).

Language is a large obstacle to comprehension, whether training community healthcare workers with varying levels of education or delivering information to the end consumers—often people in rural communities.

Ironically, people with scant knowledge of English tend to be those who need access to information the most. In the case of Africa, with 25% of the world’s disease burden and only 2-3% of its doctors and nurses, well-informed healthcare workers are crucial. If, however, neither the people themselves nor the village healthcare workers meant to help them have strong English skills, the information they have access to will be understood imperfectly or not at all. The whole chain of access to information breaks down.

Translators without Borders at IMTT’s 7 LTC

In August 2011, Córdoba, Argentina saw its most important translation event of the year at IMTT’s 7 LTC. Translators without Borders was present thanks to its new Ambassador in Argentina, Texo SRL. 

The Argentinian translation community received the news about Translators without Borders and its activities with great enthusiasm.

The fund raising activities included:

– a raffle, whose prizes were donated by: Agugusto De Santis, Compu Córdoba, IMTT, SDL Technologies, and Texo SRL; and

– a symbolic Auction of Handsome Attendees.

It was great fun! Attendees were soon sold out to the highest bidders and had to be at the buyer’s disposal till the end of the event. In all, the raffle raised AR$2250 (US$535). Our gratitude to everybody who donated for the event.

Translating to save lives

The Richmond High School students gather around the new poster, studying it closely. “It says something about an epidemic,” says a tall girl with red hair. She turns to the others with a worried look. If only she had paid more attention in French class.

Yes,” the boy next to her concludes. “It says we’re supposed to, uh, do something.” His voice trails off.

No, it doesn’t,” a third teenager in braces corrects him. “It says we’re not supposed to… .” She turns to her friends for help. They shrug and return to the poster. It’s clearly important, but they are unable to make any sense of the foreign words. No one asks, “if the information is important enough to warrant a sign outside …”

Lori ThickeBy Lori Thicke, founder of Translators without Borders

Urgent Call for Volunteers

As East Africa faces its worst famine in 60 years, called the children’s famine because they are least likely to survive, those of us who work with languages might wonder how we could possibly be of assistance. How much can translation help to lessen the burden of hunger and insecurity?

Translation can help a great deal, as it turns out.

Translations are necessary to enable international aid groups such as Doctors without Borders, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger and Oxfam to do their work. By donating their time and skills, Translators without Borders volunteers from around the world are freeing up hundreds of thousands of dollars that these and other NGOs can use for caring for people in the field.

But much more needs to be done. Today Translators without Borders is putting out a call for volunteers so we can increase our capacity to respond to these urgent needs. And we are looking for more diverse talents than ever before.

We have a time-critical need for people located in Silicon Valley who can help us raise awareness and funds at the next Localization World to be held October 10thto 12th in Santa Clara, CA. Ulrich Henes and Donna Parrish, the organizers of Localization World, have kindly donated a booth to Translators without Borders, so we need people to staff the booth, a booth manager and volunteers to sell raffle tickets.

To help us raise funds Lionbridge is making another generous contribution: the famed Lionbridge AfterParty will now become a fundraising event for Translators without Borders and open to everyone. To make this a success we need an experienced Event Manager, coordinators, and a lot of helping hands. If you have some hours you can give, we can use your help!

If you are not based in Silicon Valley, or aren’t planning to be at Localization World, there are still many ways you can help. We need a Volunteer Coordinator, to help coordinate our efforts across all of our activities. This is a very key role and would be a perfect fit for a skilled project manager. Translators without Borders also needs volunteers who can make and/or edit videos, write articles, research funding programs, write grant applications, mentor translators in Africa, and of course translate. We are also looking for LSPs who can evaluate tests in different languages using the automated testing platform has programmed for us.

If you want to join the team of growing volunteers, please email [email protected] to tell us what kind of work you do now, and what project you are volunteering for (e.g. booth staff, Event Manager, LSP to evaluate tests).

If you’re short of spare time, but wish to make a financial contribution to our work, please click here to support our work.

Localization World is coming up!

We hope that everyone is getting excited for Localization World!  We would just like to start by saying thank you to all of the donors who generously provided us with donations to raffle at our booth.  You are the ones who are making our work possible

Check out some of the great prizes we have, thanks to these donors:

  • GRAND PRIZE – A Weekend Getaway at Chateau de Berne, coach airfare, transfers and evening meals included. (2012 Season)
  • An iPad2 donated by Localization World with a Zagg keyboard/case, earphones and a mic donated by Sajan
  • An Amex $500 Gift Card donated by Language Line 
  • Kinect thanks to Daniel Goldschmidt and Iris Orriss from Microsoft
  • An Xbox donated by Lionbridge
  • An Ultra HD Flip Video Camera donated by GeoFluent, Lionbridge
  • Photoshop CS5 thanks to Adobe
  • A Czech Bohemian crystal vase donated by Moravia, along with a bottle of Scotch from XTM, a writing pen from Larsen Recruiting, and a $50 iTunes gift card from Clay Tablet
  • Kobo reader donated by Multicorpora with a $50 iTunes gift card from Clay Tablet
  • An iPad2 from Common Sense Advisory with a Zagg keyboard/case donated byLexcelera
  • An Ultra HD Flip Video Camera donated by Translation Workspace, Lionbridge
  • Bose noise canceling headset donated by Visatec
  • A crystal donated by Orrefors
  • An iPod Touch donated by Congree Language Technologies GmbH with a $50 iTunes gift card from Clay Tablet

Make sure you come by the Translators without Borders booth at the conference and buy some raffle tickets to win one of these great prizes!

Ticket prices are as follows:
1 ticket = $10/€8
3 tickets = $25/€20
7 tickets = $50/€40

We can’t wait to see you in Barcelona!

Willingness to Work Again is a Translators without Borders partner organization that provides a powerful technological platform for outsourcing translations for the NGOs that Translators without Borders help in their humanitarian work.

The professionals created a system that helps the users to request, collect and display feedback from clients and colleagues in their profiles in the form of their “willingness to work again” (“WWA”) with the translators. This is a way to appeal to potential clients and to set a translator apart in the directory.

Many translators who volunteer their time and expertise to help Translators without Borders deliver on translation projects for humanitarian not-for-profit organizations have received the WWA feedback. It means that Translators without Borders provides high quality professional service to partner NGOs.

The volunteer translators who received Willingness to Work Again (WWA) feedback as a result of working on Translators without Borders projects include Katie Voutt, Blandine Drooghmans, Susan Pasco, Norah Mulvihill, Manuela Mariño Beltrán, Géraldine Bestel, Monique Sarah, Carol Chaykin and many others.

Find out more about how the Willingness to Work Again feature works.

Blog AuthorBy Marina Sayfulina, former Translators without Borders Social Media volunteer  

The Elephant in the Access to Information Room

When health information is not in the right language, it is useless.

Translation. Practically no one is talking about delivering appropriate information in a language that people understand. Because if they are to get the benefit of it, people need health information in their language, not ours.”

Lori Thicke writes about the “elephant in the room” in the discussion of information and knowledge access for all. Read her full article here.