Meet Jeff and Ursuline: Supporting the African language community

TWB’s global community of linguists donate their time and skills to help people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. We love sharing our volunteers’ stories as a way to recognize their work and inspire others.

Africa is home to an estimated 2,000 languages. Amid such linguistic diversity, languages are important to an individual’s cultural identification and community development. For too many African linguists, poor governmental and institutional support hinders their potential. A lack of educational resources, reliable connection, and training opportunities prevents many from pursuing a career in the language industry. On a brighter note, many language enthusiasts are starting initiatives to help promote and strengthen indigenous African languages. They’re uniting their minds, voices, and talent to sustain the African language community through networking and innovative technology, such as a speech-recognition program in Rwanda or local-language chatbot apps to answer people’s health questions in the DRC and Nigeria.

The African language community at TWB

We recognize their great capacity. Around 3,500 of our volunteer linguists are from approximately 50 African countries. They speak over 200 languages, from Acholi to Zulu. Being part of our community enables them to use their skills to make communication more equitable while learning and acquiring experience. Self-taught linguists who may lack local opportunities can benefit from online training and connections.

In a recent community engagement initiative this summer, we brought African language speakers together for East African Language week. Participants met the TWB team (virtually!), and joined training sessions on the tools and guides we use. This enabled them to develop language tech skills relevant to their TWB projects and future careers. We also ran a contest, which spiked a lot of interest among the community!

Many of our linguists speak Swahili, a Bantu language primarily spoken in East Africa. With about 15 dialects and many local language influences, delivering information in Swahili can be a difficult task for organizations trying to reach local people. Thankfully, our TWB community of Swahili speakers works hard to improve communication between humanitarians and the communities they support.

Swahili skills support people across Africa

We interviewed Jeff from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ursuline from Tanzania. Their support is vital to improve two-way communication in their countries’ varieties of Swahili. While they take part in many translation projects, those related to COVID-19 were particularly significant for them.

Both Jeff and Ursuline have been personally affected by the pandemic. When it all started, Jeff had just lost his job, which caused financial instability in his family. Ursuline shared that she has lost relatives, friends, and fellow health workers to the virus. Their countries struggled at all levels. Jeff and Ursuline helped provide reliable COVID-19 information that previously wasn’t available in Swahili.

As a health educator, I wish people could understand and follow the recommended basic preventive measures of COVID-19, such as handwashing, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.

Ursuline, Swahili translator

About Ursuline

  • Born in Lituhi, a South Tanzania village
  • Speaks Swahili and English, as well as five of Tanzania’s 121 local languages
  • Has donated 343,640 words for 30 NGOs supported by TWB

About Jeff

  • Born in a small village of Mweha in the DRC
  • Speaks 7 languages and has visited 7 African countries
  • Loves to read, translate, and help others succeed professionally
What is your biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB? 

Jeff: My biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB is helping people access vital information in their own language by breaking language barriers. I also want to get more experience and grow professionally to be able to better support my family.

Ursuline: My biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB/CLEAR Global was my previous experience in documenting research papers, policy guidelines, strategic plans, implementation manuals, reports, etc, and sometimes translating them into Swahili. By donating my time and efforts, I hope to help reduce language barriers between the organizations TWB supports and their target communities.

Has working as a translator changed your perspective?

Jeff: It has opened many doors for me. As a TWB volunteer, I have met many people and learned a lot of things helpful for my career. Volunteering with TWB made me want to stay in the translation industry as a freelancer forever.

Ursuline: As a translator, I feel I have been useful to my country. I have learned a lot by translating many documents about health, education, development, and humanitarian issues. I also believe that the TWB partners for whom I have translated documents [will] find them useful for their service delivery and to save lives. Translating with TWB has changed the way I see language, going beyond mere words.

When do you find time to volunteer for TWB?

Jeff: In May, I got a new job as a Project Coordinator in the nonprofit sector. I have been much busier than last year. With this new job, I find time to work for TWB over the weekends, and sometimes in the evenings in the week if there is an emergency.

Ursuline: My work environment and day job have not changed much this year. I started to volunteer with TWB about 3 years ago after I retired from the government. I try my best to work hard and meet the TWB deadlines.

Jeff working on a language data and technology project
Do you have any advice for aspiring TWB volunteers?

Jeff: Anybody who can translate from English to any other language should volunteer for TWB. They will never get disappointed as they will meet wonderful people and learn many new things through TWB. If the speakers of my language knew about TWB, they would create an account immediately.

Ursuline: My advice for aspiring TWB Volunteers is they should take action now by registering themselves with TWB. They should also read and understand the TWB policies. They should try to improve their computer skills to be able to do TWB’s online tasks.

What’s next for you?

Jeff: I would like to get a scholarship for a master’s degree in translation/localization so that I can be a fully-fledged professional translator. I hope to achieve great success in my career.

Ursuline: I will continue to work with TWB as long as possible. Being at home and sick, I do not aspire for a new career path, but to sharpen my present translation and revision skills with TWB. I also personally hope to write or translate an interesting book.


Jeff and Ursuline’s TWB journeys are very personal and purposeful. Despite their individual challenges, they have both invested themselves so much to help their communities and benefited greatly in return. For that, we are incredibly grateful.

If you feel inspired by Jeff and Ursuline’s stories, and speak an indigenous African language, help people get vital information and be heard by joining our community today.

Written by Milana Vračar, Communications Officer for TWB, part of CLEAR Global. Interview responses by Joseph (Jeff) Habamungu and Ursuline Nyandindi, Swahili translators for TWB.

Haitian Creole: a lifeline in Haiti

Translators improve lives by translating lifesaving information for people who speak marginalized languages. Those who volunteer as part of the Translators without Borders (TWB) community have a range of experiences and skills. They share our vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our linguists, and we love sharing their stories.

Today, we’re interviewing Jean Bellefleur, one of our longest serving Haitian Creole volunteers from Grand’Anse, Haiti. Now based in Canada, Jean is committed to translating vital content from English into Haitian Creole to support the Haitian community. He understands the value of communicating with and listening to people in their own language. Since joining in 2016, he has donated 170,000 words, contributing to projects ranging from manuals on creation of free wheelchairs to FAQs around COVID-19 vaccines for children.

About Jean:

  • Joined TWB out of curiosity
  • Lived in Grand’Anse and Port-au-Prince
  • Loves to read and learn new skills

“Jean has supported us for many years as the most active volunteer for Haitian Creole. So many projects wouldn’t have been delivered without him.”

Ambra Sottile, Senior Community Officer for TWB, part of CLEAR Global

Rewind to 2010

On August 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck not far from Jean’s homeplace in Haiti, leaving more than 650,000 people in need of emergency assistance. We know that for the people affected, ensuring they get the information they need in a format they understand is paramount. It’s been just over 10 years that we’ve formed Translators without Borders (TWB) to respond to the earthquake in Haiti. Urgent medical information and crisis advice were not reaching the local people in their language. It became apparent that even the largest aid organizations did not have the language resources they needed to effectively communicate with local people. Aimee Ansari, now Executive Director of CLEAR Global and TWB, in an interview with United Language Group, recalls that almost all communication was in French: “Haitians could not understand the information they were given; they couldn’t use it, or ask any questions about it.”

A small group of people touched by the devastation volunteered to ensure that Haitians could access and understand the information they needed to stay safe and well in a time of crisis. At the time, we found that only 5% of the population was fluent in French, the “official” language of the country. Current estimates maintain that only 5-10% of Haitians speak French day-to-day. So it was — and still is — pivotal to ensure that important messages were relayed in the language spoken by the people: Haitian Creole. Aimee says: “I remember the relief in people’s eyes when we gave them information in Haitian Creole or when the team discussed issues with the displaced people in their language; it was deeply moving.” Linguists put their skills to use to provide lifelines for the Haitian community. They made sure they could find information on where to shelter, and how to avoid the spread of cholera that too often claims lives in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We translated aid information, established a translation platform, and built a community of skilled linguists. Eventually, we established a nonprofit organization to help with the crisis. and later respond to other emerging crises around the world.

Local community – global impact

Jean appreciates that “it was a hugely positive and great initiative which is useful for many local and international organizations that serve thousands of people in Haiti and throughout the world.” We started out small, and evolved from a group of volunteers, to a nonprofit, to a community of over 60,000 translators, and now we have global ambitions – to help people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Still to this day, every individual involved, everyone who contributes a few words or donates their time, is vital to this ambition.

“I feel very proud and honored to put my skills to work, accompanying TWB to reach out to the people of Haiti and elsewhere where too many languages are left out of important discussions. Languages matter the most in a time of great humanitarian crisis. Without the cooperation of the whole TWB team, we couldn’t make it.”

Jean, Haitian Creole translator

Now, the scope of our work has widened. Not only are TWB linguists like Jean providing a lifeline with accessible information about shelters and wellbeing, but, as Jean says, “they’re making the world livable.” It’s a complex situation in the country, with political tensions and multiple natural disasters. Since September 19, we’ve seen more than 7,600 Haitians expelled from the United States and sent to Port-au-Prince.

 “I am making a difference in people’s lives, especially for vulnerable people, and it is impacting their lives in a positive way. I hope to help amplify the voices of people in remote areas within the communities in Haiti and any other part of the world who speak Haitian Creole or French.”

Jean, Haitian Creole translator

Security threats, and COVID-19 continue to exacerbate a complex emergency. So, for local people, being able to get information they want and to be heard, is lifesaving. This is why we continue to collaborate with partners to improve channels of two-way communication, for speakers of Haitian Creole and other marginalized languages around the world.

Jean says he is proud to be part of a community effort:

 “I am happy to have contributed to 6 million words of COVID-19 information translated, and changing people’s lives for good. I can tell you that TWB is my home. The whole team and I have become family. I have been treated with respect and kindness, valued and appreciated for my time. Being part of the language community helps translators achieve their goals, learn professional skills, and see translation from another perspective.”

Look back on our work in Haiti over the years: 

If you want to volunteer your skills, join our community of linguists here:

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement officer for CLEAR Global. Interview responses by Jean Bellefleur, Haitian Creole translator for TWB, part of CLEAR Global.