Translators without Borders Translator Heros: Marcia Miner

French to English American translator, Marcia Miner is one of the skilled translators who volunteer their time for Translators without Borders. In 2011, Marcia completed 41 projects, totaling 64,228 words donated to NGOs, making her the lead translator with Translator without Borders for the year.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

A: I’m from Glen Ridge, New Jersey, am fluent in French, and began my translation career as a bilingual secretary at Peugeot’s American headquarters when the French company was exporting cars to the States. My specialty fields are medical, children’s education, the environment, arts and literature.

Q: Why do you work with Translators without Borders?

A: After the Haitian earthquake, I responded to TWB’s appeal for translators and was accepted.  If anything I do can help in some small way to ease the burden on doctors, nurses, teachers, and administrators who are fighting to improve the lives of children and adults around the world suffering under unacceptable conditions, as well as preserve the environment, then I’m glad to do it.

Q: Any particular project / experience with Translators without Borders that you’ll never forget?

A: I especially enjoyed translating a pediatrics/nutrition exam for Doctors without Borders to help train nurses in Kenya.

Q: As a “translator without borders” with such a high count of translated words, what challenges did you encounter (or still do)?

A: I work without translation memory software, and could be much more productive with it.

Q: What do you think of the Translators without Borders Translation Center?

A: The Translation Center runs smoothly and the deadlines are manageable.  It’s easy and reliable for me to send and receive documents.  The administrators are very cordial and polite.

Q: How is the contact with client NGOs via the Translation Center so far? 

A: Contact with client NGOs via the center has been fine.

Q: When you are not translating for TWB, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

A: Raising our puppy and collecting dolls and antiques!

Dying for Lack of Knowledge

Research clearly shows that people prefer to buy products and services in their own languages (1). This is the reason that so many businesses have undertaken translation and localization projects to transform their websites and documents from English into the native language(s) of their target markets. This seems like a pretty basic concept, but unfortunately, one that has not been adopted by many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attempting to provide information that has the potential to save millions of lives.
 
For many years, numerous NGOs in Africa have been producing materials largely in English or French, based on the assumption that everyone now speaks the  languages once imposed by colonial administrations. The result of this logic is that many documents, manuals, reports, websites, posters and pamphlets are often in a language that many people can’t understand. This mistaken belief  – that everyone in Africa speaks English or French (and to a lesser extent Portuguese) – has significantly reduced the effectiveness of numerous projects, including disaster relief, education, nutrition and gender equality programmes. There are many people across Africa who speak neither English nor French, and if they do, it is often their third or fourth language. The people who do speak English or French fluently often comprise the elite minority who are highly educated and live in urban areas. But the majority of Africans live in more rural areas where local languages and dialects are often spoken.
 

Lori Thicke, co-founder of Translators without Borders (TWB), provides several examples of the need for African NGOs to have materials translated into local languages. For example, in Thange, Kenya, most villagers speak Swahili and barely understand English. But the large poster encouraging healthy practices to reduce the spread of HIV is in English, along with the village’s sole health manual. Another eye-opening example took place when Thicke traveled to Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya (and the second largest slum in all of Africa) with a delegation from Translators without Borders.3 Approximately one million of the world’s poorest people live in Kibera and it was here that the need for translation into local languages is particularly urgent.

On their visit, TWB had the opportunity to speak with 15 young girls working in the commercial sex industry. The girls also hold the honored position of being ‘peer educators’ in their community. Their responsibilities include educating other women living in the slum on important health issues, including family planning, nutrition and the prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These young women are in the unique position of being able to reach other people in their community much more effectively than any ‘outsider.’ But there’s just one major problem. Language barriers and the resulting lack of information are killing people and destroying lives. This is especially evident in light of the number of people with HIV, the number of girls dying from unsafe abortions, the high rate of female cutting and the number of children orphaned by AIDS.

Peer educators are therefore justifiably frustrated with the lack of written health materials in the languages of the women in their community. One said that most of the women they work with speak and understand very little English, but that English is actually the language of over 90% of the written materials they have access to, resulting in a huge lack of understanding of the health practices that could save lives. Brochures in English often get tossed to the ground because recipients can’t understand the information they provide. As a result, these young women have asked Translators without Borders to train their entire group to be able to translate the brochures into local languages so they will be better able to communicate with the people they are trying to educate. They fully understand that access to materials in local languages can prevent diseases and STIs.
Thicke summarises the requirement to provide access to health information in local African languages in an interview with The Huffington Post’s Nataly Kelly: ‘in poorer regions, the information that people need, crucially, like how to protect themselves against AIDS, malaria, cholera and so on, is locked up in languages they don’t even speak. Ironically, the people who need that information the most – information about health, science, technology and so on – have zero access to it because of the language barrier.’6Thicke, too, endorses the direct relationship between access to knowledge and access to health: ‘knowledge is incredibly powerful. Knowledge ensures better health and longer lives, it reduces maternal mortality, it empowers women, it saves children from dying unnecessarily, it improves economic opportunities, it lifts people out of poverty, it encourages protection of the environment…’4 A closer look at Thicke’s statement reveals that many of the Millennium Development Goals hinge on the relationship between knowledge and health. Thicke stresses that without translation, worldwide access to knowledge, including the knowledge that can save lives, is impossible. And without global access to knowledge, the lofty goals of universal access to education and gender equality, as well as reducing poverty, maternal mortality and childhood deaths from preventable diseases, are also impossible.5

Since there are so few translators of African languages, TWB has focused on capacity building through mentoring local translators to be able to better provide translations in local languages. One of these projects is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country that has been decimated by years of war, resource exploitation, systemic sexual violence and rampant disease. There are so many aid organizations working in the DRC and a project like this has the potential to provide the NGOs with the translators they need to communicate vital information concerning health, education, nutrition, sexual assault, etc.

The Rehydration Project, an organization that provides easy-to-understand and practical advice on preventing and treating diarrhoeal diseases, clearly illustrates the value of information in local languages right on their website: ‘Information available in the local language is much more effective than in a foreign language. This is true for engineering and construction projects (such as digging water wells), and agricultural projects (such as how to irrigate the land). But it is particularly important in healthcare. In many areas in the world people do not only die from diseases, but also from the fact that they do not have basic information about how to stay healthy and what to do to prevent disease.’8

However, disease prevention is not the only urgent need. When I was in Ghana working for a women’s rights NGO, I learned first-hand the need for people to have materials in their local languages that focused on domestic violence. Even though the official language of Ghana is English, there are dozens of languages and dialects spoken throughout the country. The number of languages spoken, particularly in the northern, rural parts of the country, posed specific problems to my organisation. Even though we had access to local interpreters, when we spoke with women who were survivors of domestic violence during interviews or training sessions, it was clear that many of the women had questions that could have been answered through materials such as brochures, posters or pamphlets in their native language. These materials would also have helped spread messages of equality that could have contributed to curbing domestic violence in their homes and communities. In this way, women who have access to NGOs could share vital information with those who do not. The importance of NGOs having materials translated into local languages so they can better communicate with the people they are trying to help cannot be stressed enough. Without information and materials in local languages, NGOs will be unable to facilitate necessary changes in healthcare, education, disaster relief, environmental protection and gender equality.

By Cheryl Rettig, a freelance writer with wintranslation and who has completed international human rights internships in Haiti, Ghana, India, Israel and Palestine and Washington, DC. Cheryl has also written extensively on commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, torture, sexual violence in conflict zones and gender equality. To see more of Cheryl’s work, please check out “Women Search for Justice” at http://womensearchforjustice.blogspot.com

Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap

Volunteers translating health messages from English into local languages are providing a vital service for NGOs and freeing up millions of extra dollars to be used for medical aid.

 

Lori Thicke had an epiphany in Thange in eastern Kenya when she saw Aids orphans playing in front of posters with advice on Aids prevention. “The posters carried excellent advice, but they were in English, a language that people didn’t understand,” she said.

What was the use of this information provided by well-meaning NGOs, she wondered, if the people they were trying to reach could not read English. “People are delivering aid every day in Africa in English, French and Portuguese,” said Thicke. “That is fine for the educated elite, but they don’t need aid. It is the parents among the poor who need the information on symptoms of malaria.”

She saw the fatal effects of the language gap in India too, where mothers could have saved their children from dying from diarrhoea if they had followed the simple advice on health brochures and leaflets.

Thicke, a Canadian who came to Paris to write the great Canadian novel but founded a translation company instead, had pinpointed a glaring but little-noticed paradox in the information revolution. Thanks to the internet and mobile phones, knowledge and information is disseminated far and wide and at speed. But that knowledge is wasted unless understood by those who need it most.

Translators without Borders was founded by Thicke and Ros Smith-Thomas in 1993 after Médecins sans Frontières, the medical NGO, asked her company, Lexcelera, to work on a translation project. She asked if they needed translation often, and if giving them the words for free would be like a donation. They said yes to both questions, and TWB was born. But until that moment in Kenya two years ago, the group dealt mostly with European languages. Now Thicke is determined to bridge what she calls the “language last mile” in the developing world.

One of the group’s current projects is to teach sex workers in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, to translate material in English on sexually transmitted diseases into languages such as Swahili, Luo and Kikuyu. The project started last week, with Simon Andriesen, a specialist on medical translation who is on the TWB board. He will teach about 125 women from Kibera, who speak different languages, to translate four-page brochures in English into the different Kenyan languages.

He is teaching them translation skills so they can reach their own people,” said Thicke. “All the girls from Kibera represent different languages. They have been recommended to us by a health NGO and their job is to pass on information to other girls. We want to provide brochures in a language that can be understood so it doesn’t get thrown away.”

Paul Warambo, a recent masters graduate in the Kiswahili language living in Nairobi said: “The health translators training has come at a time when the country urgently needs translators in every sector, but especially in the health sector where little information is available in languages that can be understood by the majority of Kenyans.”

TWB is working on an even more ambitious project with Wikipedia. The aim is to take Wikipedia entries on the most important health topics, turn them into simple English and then translate them into as many languages as possible. The articles will then be accessible for free on mobile phones through new agreements between Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia, and telecoms operators. A number of Wikipedia articles covering dengue fever, Aids, malaria, cholera and tuberculosis are awaiting translation from TWB’s army of volunteers.

The group has about 2,000 translators, who have passed its translation tests. Indian languages are well served but Africa is a big gap, with only about 15 of TWB’s translators able to deal with African languages. Africa has more than 2,000 different languages, such as Amharic, Swahili and Berber, spread across six major language families. Nigeria alone has more than 500 tongues spoken within its borders.

Until the 2010 Haiti earthquake, TWB had limited reach. But the crisis revealed not only the need for translations from thousands of aid groups that need humanitarian translations but also a critical mass of translators willing to help.

So the group created an online platform to bring the two communities together. Last year, ProZ.com, the world’s largest translator organisation, created an automated translation centre for TWB so it could broaden its reach. Approved NGOs can now post translation projects such as field reports, treatment protocols and websites. Alerts then go out to the translators in those language pairs. Those who are interested in the work of that particular NGO will take on a project, translate it, and return it to the platform for delivery. Most of the projects are picked up within 15 minutes.

Translators without Borders can easily handle projects for 100 non-profits at a time, but as its volunteer community grows, so does its capacity. Over the years, it has donated almost $3m in translation services, which means that money went towards medical supplies, vaccines, rehydration kits and more.

We are working to build a world where knowledge doesn’t have borders,” Thicke said. “With technology, and cellphone penetration in Africa, we have the potential to spread knowledge, but no one is talking about how people are getting information even if they are connected. People die not just of disease but from a lack of knowledge on how to avoid getting sick.”

Blog Authorby 

Training healthcare translators in Kenya

Translators without Borders is just a step away from starting up a training program for healthcare translators in Kenya. And your help is needed! Please keep reading and you will find some suggestions about how you can contribute to this very important project.

Lack of African Healthcare Translators
Translators without Borders’ core role is to facilitate the work professional translators donate to humanitarian organizations. And for most languages, this works very well. In 2011, we provided around 2.5 million words to more than 70 NGOs. However, for a number of target languages we have found there are not any, or at least very few, translators available. One of these languages is Swahili, spoken (mostly as a lingua franca) by around 100 million people across nine countries in East Africa. This language area ‘covers’ hundreds of smaller languages (there are 42 languages in Kenya alone!). To remedy this problem, especially for healthcare information, we designed a healthcare translators’ training program that we will roll out in Kenya.

Why is translation in African languages important? In our visits to Africa we have discovered that people who don’t speak a European language – 70-80 percent of the population – cannot understand critical knowledge that they need to keep themselves and their families healthy. According to the former head of UNICEF, most of the children who die in Africa die not of diseases, but because of lack of knowledge. We aim to change that by building local capacity to translate critical health information so it can be understood by the people who need this information the most.

Translators without Borders warmly welcomed!
During a recent fact-finding trip we discussed our plans with the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. They warmly welcomed the initiative and immediately offered us a 150 square meter training location, walking distance from the Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest hospital in East Africa. We also spoke with many local organizations, doctors, and community healthcare workers and learned the following:

  • There is indeed a shortage of healthcare translators.
  • English documents, brochures and flyers are useless for many people as they don’t speak English.
  • Translated materials will definitely save time for overburdened doctors, nurses, and community healthcare workers informing people about their health (or condition), and trying to prevent disease.

We also found out that translation into Swahili alone is not enough; translation training is needed for at least ten of the other Kenyan languages.

The training program
The training program is based on the MediLingua course ‘Medical-Pharmaceutical Translation’, but rewritten for people who do not need to be trained in complex matters such as how to translate extremely technical surgeons’ instructions, and also for people who are mostly new to translation. Starting this spring we will train a variety of people to translate simple but crucial healthcare information on Africa-relevant topics, including infectious diseases, STDs, reproductive health, malaria, family planning, unsafe abortions, and female genital mutilation. The introductory training will include basic modules such as:

  • What is translation?
  • How to build glossaries
  • How to find background information
  • How to deal with new terms and write clearly
  • Introduction to interpretation
  • How to translate and subtitle videos

Read more

How can you help?
If you live in Kenya and you feel you can assist us in training people in one of the 42 local languages, please let us know.
If you feel you have an excellent command of Swahili and/or other Kenyan languages, we would appreciate your skills in reviewing the trainees’ work and/or mentoring one or more of the trainees.

Of course, if you can’t do any of this but you want to support us, we desperately need funding. TWB is a volunteer organization, but that does not mean we don’t have expenses running the center. It is not much: we really only need $5,000 (or €4,000) a month to finance the center. Please help us set up this very important center.

Visit the Translators without Borders website to find instructions about how you can donate!

Blog AuthorBy Simon Andriesen, Board President of Kenya and CEO of MediLingua

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.”