There are several ways to support TWB on #GivingTuesday. How can you help?
“When you learn, teach. When you get, give” – Maya Angelou
Donate today to TWB and be in with a chance to win one of 10 TWB mugs! With our goal to translate 10 million words in 2017 in our sights, we also want to give back – 10 mugs for 10 lucky donors!*
Sharing is caring!
Share this email on #GivingTuesday using a simple post such as: ‘Today is #GivingTuesday. If you believe #LanguageMatters, then #SupportTWB by donating here.’
Organize a fundraiser in support of TWB. Our handy Fundraising Pack is full of inspiring ideas. Little or large, online or in the office, fundraisers help raise funds for TWB but also to raise awareness of our work.
Some employers will double your fundraising for you by donating a matching amount – ask your employer today!
* We will be giving away 10 TWB mugs to the first 10 #GivingTuesday donors (valid from Monday 28 November 12am EST to Tuesday 29 November 11.59pm EST). Please specify that you are a Giving Tuesday donor in the donation form.
The Mission of Translators without Borders is to create a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. To achieve that mission, TWB works with partners globally to respond to challenges related to communication and language. This video shows the crises that Translators without Borders has responded to in an effort to improve communications between humanitarians and affected communities. Communication in the right language is effective humanitarian response. Achieving the TWB mission is therefore dependent on our dedicated volunteer translators.
joining the Rapid response team
Do you want to join the TWB Rapid Response Team? Sign up at the TWB website.
The Uber driver told me his 80-year-old grandmother would only accept M-Pesa as payment. She sells bananas up-country. The Uber guy and I are sitting in the infamous Nairobi traffic, chatting about business, robbery and technology. It’s safer for her, he explains, she tells all that she only accepts M-Pesa payments because it means she’s less likely to get robbed. I think his grandmother must be a strong character. M-Pesa is a mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service. It was started in Kenya, and the idea quickly spread across borders – and now M-Pesa is used in Tanzania, South Africa, India, Albania and Romania. Funds are transferred between accounts via mobile phone – any cell phone. The system is intuitive and in Swahili, so even basically literate people can use it. You can pay for your vegetables from the street vendor with M-Pesa (she prefers it); you can pay for your Uber driver via M-Pesa. EVERYONE in Kenya pays or gets paid with M-Pesa. The language of technology speaks for itself.
The tech side of Kenya
I was in Nairobi to support the filming of a Translators without Borders (TWB) video and to meet the TWB team there; TWB’s only physical office is in Nairobi; we train translators in east Africa and beyond. I’ve been to Kenya dozens of times – mostly on holiday, but also for work – so I wasn’t expecting to learn much about Kenya itself. I knew that Kenya has a cool tech side, but didn’t think much about it.
I was blown away
The woman we hired for the video, Jane, lives in a slum; she has M-Pesa. She also is confident and comfortable around smart phones, iPads, etc. Jane is functionally illiterate; she can’t sign her name, but she was happy to read her lines from a script on an iPad, sign a receipt with a thumb print and accept money into her M-Pesa account. She is thinking about getting M-Kopa to affordably provide solar electricity to her home in the slum for her phone, lights and radio.
Jane knows how to use her phone. She can easily get information from it. Literacy is not a barrier. Basic menus in Swahili work for Jane.
Which brought me, later that day, to iHub (I missed Mark Zuckerberg’s visit by about an hour). I was there to meet Ushahidi and to discuss our growing partnership; but I also wanted to meet the mobile systems providers’ association to discuss developing mobile courses to train translators in very local languages outside of Kenya (TWB already has translators in 11 Kenyan languages). If TWB can develop a larger cadre of local language translators, then more information can be translated into languages that people actually speak and can understand. And, combined with some other projects, including Facebook’s Free Basics, more information can get to more people in a way that they can access themselves.
That’s the crux. Can Jane get the information she wants and needs in her own language? Or can she only get what information “aid agencies” and governments give her – what “we” decide is important to translate? The answer, sadly, is that vital information is mostly in English and what is translated may not be what Jane wants or needs. For TWB, our challenge is to turn that system on its head so that Jane can get whatever information she wants in her language, when she wants it.
The future of information exchange
After a week in Kenya – seeing it not just as a country with a huge refugee population, beautiful beaches and wonderful game parks – I am convinced. Nairobi is a vibrant regional hub where non-traditional business practices are developing rapidly to suit a population of 46 million people, 75% of whom live in rural areas, with 12 main languages and dozens of smaller languages. Kenya really can be the future of information exchange.
As I’m writing this in Istanbul airport, the electricity goes out. I can feel the tension rise. The electricity doesn’t go out in airports. And the last time it went out in Istanbul there was a bomb. The security presence around me is palpable. It reminds me that there is also a lot of tension in Kenya because of recent attacks; there are security checks everywhere. You go through security to get into shopping centers and sometimes within them; security forces are on the streets; you walk through metal detectors to go into hotels and cars are searched for bombs before going into parking lots. The country borders on two unstable and insecure countries; bombings and other acts of violence are, sadly, not uncommon and make people nervous. Graft and corruption are ubiquitous. Kenya and Kenyans have a lot to overcome; but, if any country can do it, Kenya can.
The language of technology
Mobile savvy Kenyans aren’t nervous about technology; new technologies pop-up every day and Kenyans (mostly) accept them – from Uber to M-Kopa to Ushahidi. Ordinary Kenyans, even low income Kenyans, have a sense of what the world outside of Kenya can offer; they know that information is there and that it can help pull the country out of some of difficulties people are mired in now.
I think Kenyans can lead the way in making the world available to Kenyans and, hopefully, the rest of East Africa – and they can make Kenyan ideas and thoughts accessible to the millions of others who can benefit from some of the models that they are developing. It’s super-inspiring; I am excited about working with Kenyan language professors, NGOs, and tech companies to help transform how development happens – so that people themselves have the information they want and can make informed decisions about their futures.
By Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director
I grew up in a village in rural Kenya. In this village, many people had little or no education. Those who were lucky enough to see the doors of a classroom only reached primary level. The village was essentially an illiterate one. When I learned how to read and write, many villagers asked me to read healthcare fliers to them; prenatal and postnatal clinic booklets that were issued at health centers and in the village. In those days there were frequent disease outbreaks, such as cholera, measles, diarrhoea and malaria. It is by a miracle of sorts that I survived in such an environment, because my mother was also illiterate and public health workers were scarce, and often overwhelmed. The only information on critical health issues came from the government and NGOs who were at that time trying to respond to various health crises. However, this is not the story I want to talk about: the story I want to tell is one about a poor illiterate mother whose second child died from cholera. A story of why the gift of information is vital.
The story of a mother
This story takes place in a time when the efforts to contain the cholera outbreak had been seen to bear fruit. Leaflets were distributed in the village on general hygiene practices. Breastfeeding mothers were told to wash their hands before feeding their babies and to prepare meals in a clean environment. The leaflets also had information about seeking immediate treatment when a child showed symptoms of diarrhoea. Mama Tinda had all those leaflets containing this information. The leaflets were carefully kept in her clinic bag but because she could only read her native language, the leaflets, in English, made no sense to her, and she always relied on health workers to read and explain the information to her. So when her second-born child got diarrhoea, she could not follow the advice on leaflets. Mama Tinda’s only fault was her inability to read and understand English. That child died. During a casual chat with her a few months ago, she told me that she regrets not having an education. As fate would have it Mama Tinda did not have any more children, and because her first child died of malaria she now remains childless.
Join the movement
The story of Mama Tinda and many mothers like her motivates me to support the mission of Translators without Borders; that is to provide people access to life-saving information in their own language so that knowledge can positively impact their lives. This is the story of language that makes me appeal to you to support the saving of lives through language. Support Translators without Borders and give the gift of information.
By Paul Warambo, Translators without Borders Kenya Manager
This is a story from the corporate corner. A story of Translators Without Borders.
The beginning of TWB…
“Here’s a news flash: communicating in the wrong language is not communicating at all. Humanitarian groups not getting that simple fact is the main reason I founded the translation charity Translators without Borders. Yet the same ignorance about how important language is also bedevils anyone who earns a living in the translation industry.” READ MORE
By Lori Thicke, founder of Translators without Borders
Leave no one behind and localization are big picture ideas that are being widely-discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit next week in Istanbul.
But, what does it really mean to leave no one – not one single person – behind?
As the head of an organization that began and remains firmly based in the localization industry, I’d like to add my voice to the conversation –it’s a conversation vital to everything we do as humanitarians.
I’ve been thinking about what humanitarians can learn from the corporate sector in terms of localization. When I say “humanitarians”, I mean local, national, international NGOs, UN agencies, etc.
Why do companies localize? What do they know that we (humanitarians) don’t? The localization industry is expected to be worth $37 billion by 2018. Obviously, localization matters to corporations.
Here is what they know:
People remember and respond better to what they learn in their native language.
According to Robert Lane Greene of The Economist, research demonstrates that when people read something in a language they understand, they can comprehend it. If they read something in their mother tongue, they are more apt to believe it to be true.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Simple messages in native languages work. Content can’t be translated well if it doesn’t make sense in the original language.
Go to the customer. Go to the places where people get information. Localize what you find and create what is missing.
Provide people with knowledge and information, not instructions. Let people decide how to use the knowledge.
Ensure efficient processes. Use technology to speed up (but not substitute for) localization.
We humanitarians know this. But why do companies localize, but we in the humanitarian world don’t?
Same, same, but different
In the corporate translation/content world, localization is about how to make information accessible to customers. For humanitarians, localization is about putting affected people at the center of the humanitarian response.
Maybe it’s the same thing? Doesn’t “leaving no one behind” mean making our “products” accessible to people affected by crises, our customers? Doesn’t putting people at the center of the response mean that they decide which products best suit their needs?
Why are we behind in our participation?
We’ve all heard the excuses:
Translation is too expensive; we don’t have the budgets companies have.
Translation takes too long and people will die.
We don’t have translators on staff, and those we do have focus on the languages that our donors speak, not those languages that affected people speak.
Just give them cash and let them work out what they need. People can make their own decisions.
Let’s address these.
Translation is too expensive
It IS expensive to translate a lot of content. Fortunately, we already have the lessons that the private sector has learned and the tools they’ve developed. We need to:
Decide what is crucial information (not huge tomes)
Ensure that the content is good (for example, not UN or NGO-speak)
Find qualified professional translators (bad translations can kill)
Use translation tools wisely
Make the process efficient
These things cut costs and force us to prioritize.
Translation takes too long and people will die.
Or they will die because they don’t get the right information at the right time in the right way? In my four months at TWB, I’ve discovered that this is really not as hard as we think. TWB currently releases information in Arabic, Farsi, and Greek in less than five hours. And with the social media penetration rates of many of the places we work, we provide the best information to people using high-quality translations, subtitles, or voice overs before most humanitarians can score their visas, flights, hotels and advances.
Localization works even better if there are trained community translators already in the country of need. In-country resources are low-cost and easily developed for all humanitarian and development workers.
As an aid community, we need to think differently. Think about how much you can do virtually, without getting on a plane. For example, TWB has no corporate HQ – our only office is a translation center in Nairobi. All of our staff and our 3,400 translators work remotely.
Just give them the cash.
I agree. Give them the cash. And ensure that those in need have access to
high-quality information that they understand so they know what’s available to best protect themselves and their families.
Localization is as much about improving the quality of assistance as it is about ensuring people can protect themselves and live with dignity. As an aid community, we can only meet our own rigorous standards if people get the information they need in a language they speak and in a format they can access.
With all the other commitments, let’s make sure we really do leave no one behind.
Still not convinced?
Translators without Borders has done a series of very simple comprehension studies. This will make you think:
197 people were asked questions about how Ebola is spread.
8% of the questions were answered correctly
About 100 of these people attended an English information session; the other 100 got the same information in a professionally-translated Swahili session
Both groups were given the same test at the end of the sessions
The group that received information in English got 16% of the questions correct
The ground that received info in Swahili got…
….Wait for it…
92% of the questions correct.
If we’re really serious about ‘leaving no one behind’, then every humanitarian organization should invest in ensuring that key information is already translated into languages where we know disasters will occur (or are occurring) by:
Train community translators and interpreters to listen and respond, alongside community groups.
Ask for translation support. There are tools to rapidly develop local translator networks or global virtual translation/interpreting teams.
Pre-translate questionnaires and make them available in various media. You can sub-title or dub videos or radio programs fairly easily into numerous languages and have them ready for deployment.
Make sure source content is simplified in advance. I shudder to think that we might have to ask translators to translate the CHS graphic. Simple language can be easily translated into languages that are not vocabulary-rich, without compromising the meaning.
It’s not difficult. It’s not expensive. It will improve our accountability. It will save lives.
Come visit TWB in the Innovation Marketplace at the WHS. We will be at booth #2.
Contributors: Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Content Rules and Donna Parrish, Owner/President of MultiLingual Computing, Inc., publisher of the language industry magazine “MultiLingual” and Co-owner and President of Localization World, Ltd., inputted significantly to this piece. They are TWB Board Members.
By Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director
Since November 2015, as part of our response to the European refugee crisis, Translators without Borders has translated over 100,000 words of critical information into main refugee languages. We have reached tens of thousands of refugees on their journey from the Greek islands and along the ‘Balkan route’ and we have engaged over 100 professionals and volunteer translators for our Words of Relief European refugee response program.
Meet Translators without Borders at the following upcoming events:
Here on Lesbos, I tend to disappoint people at first meeting, when they hear about the TWB translation support. My introductory conversations go something like this:
Me: “Hi, I’m Lali, Communications Manager for Translators without Borders’ European Refugee Response.”
Them: “Hi!” (very excited) “A translator! That’s great! We desperately need Arabic…”
Me: “No, I’m not a translator…”
Them: “But I thought you said you worked for…?” (perplexed)
Me: “I’m coordinating partnerships and communicating about our work…”
Them: “Oh.” (profoundly disappointed)
The immediate need of translation support
In this crisis response, everyone needs translation support – and needs it immediately. The demand for translation and interpretation is so urgent and so widespread that I’ve had that introductory conversation (or one very similar to it) with refugees, aid workers and volunteers alike. At registration centres, in meetings, outside tents, in cafes and on the beaches: I’ve disappointed people all over the island of Lesbos.
Spend a day (or an hour) working as part of any international humanitarian response, and you’ll understand the disappointment. There are obvious life-saving moments (understanding that someone needs a doctor, telling a child that the water is not safe to drink) when a common language is key. And then there are more complex situations (explaining rules and regulations, mediating between parties) which are extremely difficult even without a language barrier. All this is true of any humanitarian crisis.
But everyone working on the ground here agrees that communication needs during this, the European refugee crisis response, are special. What’s more, communication is central to this crisis response in a way that is entirely new to the international humanitarian community. I’d been told this, I’d read about this, but for me, it took actually seeing (and hearing) the crisis myself to understand why exactly this is the case. I’m still feeling out the dimensions of the enormous communication challenges we all face here and, as part of my role within TWB’s Words of Relief project, I’ll continue doing so. Right now though, to me, the challenges look something like this:
The refugee population is linguistically diverse
As an independent volunteer working at a clothing distribution point, I was trying to help a newly arrived Iraqi woman, shivering with cold, to find the clothes she needed. The woman was miming what looked to me to be a pair of trousers, so off I went to get trousers. Wrong. She tried again…now it looked like underwear. I went to get underwear. Wrong again. There was an Arabic interpreter nearby so I dragged him over to help, but he soon found out the woman didn’t speak Arabic. “She only speaks Kurdish,” he said.
This is not unusual: almost 80 percent of the refugees coming across the waters are Arabic or Farsi speaking. The Arabic speakers from Syria tend to be more educated with someone in their group able to communicate in English, whereas the Farsi (or Dari) speakers from Afghanistan often do not understand English at all. The other 20 percent of refugees do not speak or read in either of these languages. TWB has had requests from our partners for translation support in languages as various as Kurdish, Urdu, Dari, Pashto, Tigrinya and French. Time- consuming and disempowering interaction is all too common in this crisis because those working on the ground simply don’t have access to these languages.
Host community and refugee population don’t share a common language
A group of local volunteers express shyness in communicating with refugees; an NGO partner in Serbia finds it incredibly difficult to recruit local Arabic speakers; TWB can’t draw on the local community for interpretation and translation support; partners request the most basic traveller’s information for refugees (such as how to use an ATM). These and many other communication challenges arise from the unusual geography of this crisis: refugees do not typically speak the languages of the host communities they encounter on their route.
It is further testament to the enormously hospitable response of the Lesbos’ local population that they rarely understand the languages of the refugees they assist. But when it comes to more complex interactions, between government officials and refugees, for instance, language barriers can exacerbate or generate tensions. The fact that the many international volunteers and aid workers speak neither the language of the hosts nor the refugees, is another complicating factor.
TWB is currently working with partners to include communication with host communities in all their programmes. This means (on Lesbos, for example), that every sign, pamphlet or website disseminated in Arabic, Farsi or English, has a Greek translation. This should be replicated in Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. We do this in the hope that equally informing communities leads to greater trust between them.
Refugees are mobile
Late one night, a man arrives at Moria registration centre soaked to the bone. It’s dark, cold and raining and we volunteers want to get him to the clothes distribution point urgently. He shakes his head: “No clothes, no clothes. Where do I register? How do I get to the port?” he asks. At that moment, getting the papers that will allow him to transit through Greece, and finding out how to get the ferry to Athens, are much more necessary than dry clothes, warmth or food. The urgent need to move on is typical of all refugees here. No one comes to Lesbos, or any other transit point, to stay.
The fact that refugees are on the move (and moving very fast in many cases) presents a major communication challenge. Unlike in other refugee crises where time is spent building trust and establishing routines at temporary resettlement sites, this crisis only allows for brief interactions with aid workers and fleeting opportunities to disseminate information. Then, with the next boatload of refugee arrivals, the information needs to be disseminated all over again. For this reason, high-quality concise translation and interpretation is even more crucial in this crisis to ensure refugees keep themselves and their families safe.
Refugees need constantly changing information
Most people know an anxious traveller. Maybe you are one yourself! Now just imagine that you actually have a reason to be seriously anxious (rather than just missing your train): you’re seeking asylum. On top of this, you’re in a country where you can’t read transport timetables, you’ve heard there’s a ferry strike but you’re not sure, you know that there are some countries who have closed their borders to people from your country, and you’ve heard there are people stranded in freezing temperatures further up the route. Oh and you have four children travelling with you. All is rumour, nothing is confirmed: now that’s anxious travelling.
Crisis-affected and displaced populations typically need information about health, shelter and emergency facilities. They also need information on their families and what is happening back home. In this crisis, information on travel (When is the next ferry? How much does it cost to take the bus? What is the weather forecast tomorrow?), or information on asylum procedures (Can I apply for asylum in Sweden? Can I register for a transit visa in Macedonia? Where should I say I’m heading on my registration paper?) is desperately needed by refugees. But this information is constantly changing – often by the minute. TWB is working closely with our partners to make sure information disseminated online and throughout humanitarian networks is rapidly translated so that refugees can make informed choices.
Fortunately, my conversations on Lesbos don’t end in disappointment. The immediate need for language skills that makes both me and the person I’m talking to wish I was indeed a translator, is only the most obvious manifestation of the communication challenges of this crisis. When I explain what Translators without Borders is doing to take the pressure off interpreters on the ground, to supply diverse language skills, to communicate with host communities, to produce professional, high-quality content, and provide rapid translation in a constantly changing environment – the disappointment invariably turns to comprehension and then, cooperation. In this crisis, the immediate demand will remain, but a more context-specific and sustainable response will best meet the communication challenges of a crisis that shows no sign of ending any time soon. And that’s how we provide the best possible translation support.
By Lali Foster, former Communications Manger for the European refugee crisis response
Thursday (November 7) night at the tcworld Conference this year was like none other for me. Normally a relaxing second moment in the middle of this particular conference, this time I had only one thing on my mind: an enormous typhoon was barreling toward the central Philippines, and Translators without Borders was being asked to activate a team to help deal with the chaos that was bound to ensue.
After dinner I worked through the night assembling our team, putting communications pieces in place, and keeping the vast and wide network of humanitarian aid responders with whom we partner apprised of our capabilities. Meanwhile, I watched as the typhoon made landfall and the area of greatest impact went dark. Mother Nature reminding us who is in charge: A circumstance that has become more familiar over the past four years but, fortunately, one that we are learning to address more quickly in an attempt to use language to save lives.
It was almost four years ago now since Haiti was ravaged by an earthquake. That crisis was a wake-up call for the translation industry—and, more importantly, the international aid organizations—regarding the vital role translation plays during such a crisis. The silver lining to that disaster was the growth of Translators without Borders, with a dedicated board and a committed advisory committee. We now handle more than 750,000 humanitarian words every month through the Translators without Borders Workspace (powered by Proz.com) and we have a vast network of translators ready to help out. This infrastructure was critical in setting up our response to last week’s typhoon. Tagalog (or Filipino) and English are the national languages of the Philippines. There are also eight major dialects; in central Philippines the most important being Waray and Cebuano. We were able to quickly assemble a team of Tagalog translators who could also handle the major dialects. A key factor was that the members of this team of dedicated volunteers were geographically dispersed, allowing us to offer assistance quickly at any time of the day.
With the team assembled, the real work began on Friday, November 8. The initial activation came from UN OCHA via the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). As a member of DHN, we work with a wide array of committed aid response organizations that help the major responders to quickly put together a picture of the situation, often using micro-mapping and big data to assist. Social media is mined for this work, and our initial role in this activation was to handle the non-English Tweets and public Facebook messages. Additionally, we created a list of key terms – everything from ‘flood’ through ‘damaged’ and ‘injured’ to ‘dead’ – in Tagalog and Cebuano in order to help data miners sort through and prioritize the mountains of information being generated.
As the activation continued and responders on the ground gained a clearer picture of the devastation, we were called in by other partners to be ready to respond. One of our translators worked directly with Humanity Road, a DHN partner that educates the public before, during, and after a crisis. We are also a full member of the CDAC-Network (Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities), which was created by major aid organizations, including UN OCHA, Save the Children, WorldVision, Internews, the International Federation of Red Cross, and Red Crescent Societies, to improve ‘Communications with Communities’ (or CwC). CwC is being recognized more and more as critical factor during a crisis. While it might seem obvious, it is not simple when all telecommunications are down, cell phone batteries die, and people speak an array of different languages. Through CDAC-N we are on call to assist with communications from aid workers to the affected populations as they work feverishly to get materials and information out. Finally, we are on call with UNHCR, which is the lead organization for refugees, to provide translations of more long term and longer format materials for refugees who will not have proper shelter for many months to come.
Throughout the process, our team of translators has been engaged and committed to help. Unlike many of the other responders to a crisis, Translators without Borders volunteers are intimately linked to the affected communities. In many cases, they have friends and family in the middle of the crisis. Language is the ultimate connector – and once our team members know their loved ones are safe, they use language to make a difference, helping responders save lives. In fact their knowledge of the community and the geographic region allows our team to be supportive in other ways as well, including giving CwC responders contacts in the local media and assessing the on-the-ground communications situation. I am so proud of our team of translators – they are making a difference every hour.
We are also documenting what we have learnt from this latest crisis to improve our own response to the next that will undoubtedly come, and to provide important input to our Words of Relief pilot project, due to kick off in Kenya next month. With that project, funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, we will be testing the concept of a spider network of responders in regional and local languages as well as an interactive, collaborative and mobile translation system to engage people now living away from their homelands quickly and in a meaningful way. Stay tuned for much more on Words of Relief.
Finally, we could not do this without the support of our donors and sponsors. We have a vision to use language to increase access to knowledge and to save lives. Communications IS aid (#commisaid). And in communications, language is key. We will keep telling this story, and we ask you to keep supporting us in our efforts.
By Rebecca Petras, Translators without Borders Deputy Director and Head of Innovation