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.

Community response: India’s COVID-19 crisis

Community response: India’s COVID-19 Crisis

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 translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Health, gender, equity, emergency 

At each stage of the COVID-19 crisis, our community responded with vital translations, voiceovers, and captions in the languages people understand. Over 190 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, and 32,737,939 of these are in India at the time of publication. There, the world watched India battle an oxygen shortage in tandem with a surge of infections. We translated vital information to help keep people safe from the virus. Now, a vaccination drive is underway to inoculate the population. But experts are concerned about a gender gap, as “government data shows 6% fewer women are getting vaccinated.” This is especially problematic in rural India where there is less internet access and more hesitation or fear around the vaccine, especially among women. 

“I feel translation makes a huge difference since even in India, many people from remote areas could not initially access the COVID health and vaccination resources made available by the government, either because of not having the means or not being able to use the English platform due to a language barrier.”

Chinmay Rastogi, TWB Hindi Language Associate

This is where our language community jumps into action. Collectively, we’re working towards a goal of more equitable access to information, irrespective of our language. We interviewed Chinmay Rastogi, our Hindi Language Associate, as well as Ashutosh Mitra and Poonam Tomar, members of our dedicated Hindi language community. They all donate their time and skills to support our mission. For the people of India, this means providing accurate, timely information about the pandemic as it evolves. It also means ensuring people can ask the questions that matter to them and get answers in their language. 

TWB Hindi Language Associate, Chinmay. India's COVID-19 crisis
Ashutosh, Hindi translator 

Ashutosh, Hindi translator 

  • Inspired by Hindu philosophy
  • Keeps his TWB T-shirt proudly in his wardrobe
  • 700,000 words donated

Chinmay, Hindi language associate

  • Helps lead the Hindi language community
  • Joined in the midst of the pandemic
  • 72,000 words donated

Poonam, Hindi translator 

  • Lives in Singapore 
  • Passionate about learning new things
  • 17,000 words donated

Novel virus, new words. 

Chinmay joined TWB during the chaos of the pandemic. He was quickly thrown into COVID-19 training and education projects to ensure that healthcare workers in the community can properly communicate with people about the virus. “Social distancing,” “quarantine,” “isolation,” and countless other new terms have been coined in English and other languages to describe how we’ve dealt with the virus. These terms, used by the World Health Organization, for example, have to be taken on board by people all over the world, no matter what language they speak. There was no English to Hindi dictionary for these new terms and new ways of using them. So Chinmay and his fellow translators have joined the effort to translate numerous resources to inform and support people, in their languages. It’s the job of our linguists and Language Associates to work out the best way to translate unfamiliar terms and make resources accessible to all our language communities in new and strange circumstances. One such resource is the Hindi Style Guide which Chinmay recently helped create for TWB translators. It illustrates the basic principles for translating TWB projects into Hindi. Chinmay said “it’s challenging but really exciting to work towards this end since it could really have a positive impact on someone’s life. Even as digitization continues to propel itself into lives all over the world, many resources are not “accessible” despite being “available” because of a language barrier. The idea of being able to bridge this gap appeals to me.” 

“It has been interesting to follow how new words and terms are absorbed into a language.”

Chinmay, TWB Hindi Language Associate.

Many languages, one cause 

TWB linguists are motivated to come together in support of their communities. Poonam says, “The COVID situation has taught me how vital it is to have a translated version of important guidelines in your own native language. Being a linguist, I wanted to give back to the community to spread awareness in such critical times.”

“Through TWB, I am trying to help bridge the gap for all native speakers of Hindi who are unable to read and understand foreign languages.”

Poonam, Hindi translator for TWB
Poonam working on a COVID-19 project in Hindi. India's COVID-19 crisis
Poonam working on a COVID-19 project in Hindi

For Ashutosh, the philosophy of Hinduism is what motivates him. He explains: “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम {vasudhaiv kuTumbakam} means ‘Vasudha’ (earth) + eva (one and only) + Kutumbakam (family). This statement enjoins humans to exhibit the highest sense of affinity and leave all the differences such as caste, color, ethnicity, nationality, and religion aside. And when you follow this philosophy you share what you have within your family, irrespective of age and relation. And this is what I do when I volunteer for TWB. And this is what keeps motivating me.” 

Ashutosh is inspired by the “Karma” philosophy of Bhagavad Gita, which speaks about volunteering:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।


He translates this to English as – “Let your claim lie on action alone and never on the fruits; you should never be a cause for the fruits of action; let not your attachment be to inaction.”

Learning together

Poonam says she generally spends her evenings and weekends volunteering for TWB. She is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the COVID-19 Digital Classroom. This is a library of resources for community-based health workers made multilingual in collaboration with TWB’s community of linguists. By making learning available to the Hindi-speaking community, everyone involved has played a part in actively slowing the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. 

The opportunity for mutual understanding and learning through translation is a rewarding experience for all of our volunteers. Chinmay appreciates that “With TWB, the huge breadth of projects means you never have to limit yourself. It’s also fascinating to see how technology is being used here to actually make our world a better place by creating tools and services in languages that people are familiar with.” 

Many of the TWB community describe it as family. We’re proud to offer opportunities to connect and give back together, and would like to extend our invitation to join us! We’re growing our Hindi-speaking community so we can respond to more humanitarian needs.

Commencing September 27, 2021, we’ll be marking Hindi Language Week – it’s a chance to celebrate our Hindi-speaking community with online webinars, translation contests, and more.

Join the effort, spread the word to Hindi speakers, and support TWB to share vital information and make people heard in their language. 

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement Officer for TWB, part of CLEAR Global. Interview responses by Chinmay Rastogi, Volunteer Hindi Language Associate for TWB, Ashutosh Mitra, Translator for TWB, and Poonam Tomar, Translator for TWB. 

Listen and learn: The link between language and accountability for the future of the Grand Bargain

Five years ago, the Grand Bargain’s Participation Revolution vowed to reform the humanitarian sector to better listen to people affected by crises. Today, lots is still ongoing to make humanitarian organizations more accountable to the people they aim to serve and respond to their feedback. The outgoing Emergency Relief Coordinator’s new proposal for an Independent Commission for Voices in Crises is the latest of several such initiatives. Across the sector, listening to people’s voices and including them in humanitarian decision making are acknowledged as essential. With a proliferation of tools like hotlines and other accountability-focused activities, never before have people had so many opportunities for making their voices heard. Yet too often, these opportunities don’t materialize and humanitarians remain heavily in control of making decisions, independent of people’s needs and priorities. 

Photo shows signage with text in English in camps for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Borno state, northeast Nigeria.
Photo shows signage with text in English in camps for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Borno state, northeast Nigeria.

There are systemic weaknesses in our sector’s approach to accountability, rendering whole groups voiceless within the system, simply because their voices are in another language. As the humanitarian sector deliberates on a future Grand Bargain, we must base all accountability efforts on lessons about listening to crisis-affected people in their languages.

Listening is essential but not always the reality

Many aid organizations do not have the tools needed to really listen to affected people, especially in linguistically diverse contexts. The 2020 Humanitarian Accountability Report shows that organizations are far from meeting Core Humanitarian Standard commitments on communication, participation, feedback, and complaints. Attention to language minorities has also been low, with little consideration for how language, often coupled with other factors such as gender and displacement, leads to exclusion from humanitarian assistance and protection. Right now, the onus for listening to affected people is mostly placed on a small group of people whose job titles include the words “accountability” or “community engagement.” Their efforts provide the building blocks of accountability, but they cannot systematically ensure implementation of language-aware programs.  Nor can they ensure that entire organizations change their ways sufficiently to make the system more accountable.

This has serious, unintended consequences

In Burkina Faso, communities that speak multiple languages remain unable to engage with responders because translation and interpretation are not prioritized. 

In South Sudan, women in particular report language as a barrier to accessing information on vouchers and services they can use to obtain food and other essentials. 

In DRC’s Equateur Province, a lack of language support leaves women unable to access reporting mechanisms and make complaints due to the fear of not being listened to. 

In northeast Nigeria, people who don’t speak Hausa or Kanuri sometimes have to rely on a neighbor or relative (sometimes a child) to act as an informal interpreter and relay their needs to enumerators. 

In Afghanistan, community radio stations struggle to access information about COVID-19 in plain language and in the languages their staff and audiences speak. 

Across the board, language barriers are a symptom of wider issues of culture and power. These examples demonstrate how people who don’t understand or speak the languages used by humanitarians in a given context are disadvantaged and exposed to greater risks. They also point to the unfair, unrealistic reliance on national responders to carry the burden of multilingual communication untrained and unsupported.   

Focus group discussion with internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Borno state, northeast Nigeria.
Focus group discussion with internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Borno state, northeast Nigeria.

Practical changes are needed to make language a routine consideration in listening to affected people

Listening to people’s voices depends on understanding – and to understand, we need to consider language. Without language, listening becomes irrelevant. You can’t communicate your priorities to a hotline operator who doesn’t speak your language. There is no point in having a feedback box if you cannot write. People affected by crises must be able to communicate in their own language to feel heard, seen, and recognized for who they are and the rights and needs they have. To achieve the Grand Bargain’s Participation Revolution and put affected people’s voices at the center of humanitarian action, humanitarians need to change their standard approach to language. Learning from evidence and practice to date, we need to: 

  • Assess what languages people speak and understand. If we stick to the official or dominant language in a crisis-affected area, we won’t reach large sections of the population, including non-literate women, older people, and people with disabilities, many of them vulnerable in other ways. And unless we can track the outcomes of our programs against the languages of individuals, we can’t say that we are leaving no one behind. With language data, we can have an evidence base for effective two-way communication. For example, when REACH collected language data in the 2019 multi-sector needs assessment, for the first time responders in northeast Nigeria could adapt their communication to the needs of different groups.  
  • Pool resources. Without appropriate resourcing, we default to communicating only in official or dominant languages. And we address language barriers one piece of content at a time; often a task taken on by local colleagues with little or no support. This is resource-intensive, creates delays in information relay, and increases the chances of information getting lost in translation. Overcoming this means budgeting for and mobilizing professional linguists wherever possible. Training and support programs can build capacity in languages where support is unavailable or unaffordable. The Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability project in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, exemplifies this. Evidence shows that the proportion of Rohingya refugees saying they have the information they need jumped from 23% to 92%. Through training on language and accountability, operational organizations also reported being able to better communicate with Rohingya refugees and respond to their needs.  
  • Use available language technology. As the COVID-19 response has highlighted, people respond best to information that they feel they can trust and that answers their actual concerns. Some new tools have been introduced to help with providing people with better targeted information, including chatbots. But these are mostly focused on information dissemination, through rather standardized menu-based options. As such, we are missing critical engagement opportunities and not taking advantage of available technology. That is why TWB is working with IFRC, Mercy Corps, and others to pilot more interactive chatbots, allowing for natural language input, currently in French and Congolese Swahili in DRC and English, Hausa, and Kanuri in northeast Nigeria. In time, this can help build the automated translation technology that will enable crisis-affected people to have the conversations and access the information that they want. 

We’ve learned these lessons in our own evolution as an organization. We know that paying more attention to language alone isn’t the way to systematically listen to and act on the voices of those most in need. But done right, it would provide the sector a better means to value, and act on, the input, views, and agency of crisis-affected people, in the languages they know best.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer at TWB / CLEAR Global. 

Meet Nan and Futu: sharing climate solutions in more languages

In May 2021, the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development gathered the world’s education and sustainable development communities to grow awareness on sustainable development challenges. ‘Education for Sustainable Development for 2030’ is the global framework for “the development of the knowledge, skills, understanding, values, and actions required to create a sustainable world, which ensures environmental protection and conservation, promotes social equity and encourages economic sustainability.” To be effective, the conversation about sustainable development must include people from all over the globe, whatever language they speak.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently remarked that “We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption.” So we are celebrating the efforts of translators who are informing their communities about the effects of climate change, and bringing more voices into the conversation. 

People by a train in the countryside, Myanmar.

We interviewed two translators whose work is raising awareness of climate change. Nan and Futu are improving lives in their communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and beyond.

Over one million Rohingya people have fled violence in Myanmar in recent decades, arriving in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and its coastline is one of the most disaster-prone regions. Myanmar also is at severe threat of natural disasters and suffers from protracted humanitarian emergencies. The unmistakable threat of climate change pervades everyday life. These countries are some of the world’s most hard hit by the effects of the climate disaster. They are especially vulnerable to increased temperatures, cyclones, flooding, and landslides which further risk lives. When there’s little information available in your language, it becomes even harder to protect yourself from climate change and act to prevent it. These translators have worked on projects to help inform the Myanmar- and Bangla-speaking communities.

Nan, Myanmar translator:

  • Fascinated by documentaries 
  • Interested in connecting with and learning from interesting people 
  • Loves stories, and collects classic books, and listens to literature talks 

When she’s not reading or cooking a new recipe from Youtube, Nan works from her home in the northern Shan State of Myanmar. She volunteers for TWB projects on weekends and after work. 

“I love how Myanmar has various ethnic groups and is rich with interesting cultures and traditions. The food is amazing, the nature is refreshing and our people have generous hearts. Even though I belong to one of the ethnic minority groups in Myanmar, Burmese is like my mother language. I love to learn about how the Burmese language developed and its very rich historical background.” 

Nan, Myanmar translator. 

Futu, Bangla translator

  • Stays up-to-date with global trends, human rights, and technological innovations
  • Likes to read and explore the daydreams of writers 
  • Keeps busy with an energetic toddler at home

Futu enjoys working from his home office, situated near the enchanting lake of the Chittagong hills. 

A lake in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Do you see the effects of climate change?

“Yes, I’ve recently read about the drought in Pyin Oo Lwin on the news. It’s a serious issue because people in that neighborhood said they have never witnessed a drought before. Also in my hometown, even though spring has just arrived, some households have to buy water due to drought. And we couldn’t see sunlight for the past four or five days due to open agricultural burning and the sky is covered with haze.”

Nan, Myanmar translator.
Nan shares a photo of her office desk, from which she translates projects for TWB.

“I’m very concerned about the climate change in Myanmar. I wish we could build community-based initiatives to educate people about the effects of using plastic and burning waste and plastic in the neighborhood.”

Nan, Myanmar translator.

Translators play an important role in sharing information about climate change to help people understand the effect and what actions they can take. Key information in the right language can also help people prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Nan explains that in her hometown, there are many ethnic groups who can’t speak or understand Burmese. She says it would help if the authorities could connect with local civil societies and try to translate key information into as many languages as possible. 

Due to the geographic location, low elevation, floodplains, and population density, Bangladesh is similarly one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It creates food insecurity, water shortages, and concerns over shelter. Environmental impacts create very real health and safety issues for local communities. This is why it’s vital to make facts available to people in the languages they can speak and understand. It’s important to enable two-way conversations and make local people’s voices heard. Futu believes that:

“The only way global society can truly benefit is from sharing climate change research and implementing solutions.”

Futu, Rohingya translator, Bangladesh.

Nature Now

Nan and Futu worked on the Nature Now project in late 2019. It’s a video featuring climate activist Greta Thunberg and writer and climate activist George Monbiot. They explain that there is a natural solution to the climate breakdown: protecting forests. And they urge us to take simple actions which can have a great impact on our planet. The key message is to: 

:shield: PROTECT: where nature is doing something vital, we must protect it.

:dizzy: RESTORE: help our environment where nature is trying to recover itself.

:heavy_dollar_sign: FUND: start funding initiatives that help our planet and stop funding entities that destroy our planet.

In this incredibly exciting project for the TWB community, we translated and revised the video into 33 languages. You can watch them here.

Nan says she is thrilled to have been a part of the movement by helping the climate solution message reach her community.

“It’s rare to see something like the Nature Now climate solutions film in the Rohingya language. It makes me feel as if I am campaigning to save the world from disasters when I work on these projects. It will be very good for the Rohingya community to benefit from more projects such as this in the future.”

Futu, Rohingya translator, Bangladesh.

Do you have a passion for supporting communities around the globe? By sharing your language skills, you can involve more people in vital conversations about climate change and more. Invite your friends and networks to join the TWB community. Share this link to sign up: http://translatorswithoutborders.org/volunteer/translators

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement Officer for TWB. With interview responses by Nan, Myanmar translator for TWB, and Futu, Bangla translator for TWB. To protect their identities, we have used pseudonyms in this piece.

Meet Andreia: a translator shaping a more equal future

On 8 March, we join the world in celebrating International Women’s Day 2021. We’re interviewing Andreia Frazão, a translator whose tremendous efforts contribute to improving the lives of women, men, and children across the world. This year, the theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We’re celebrating the efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic through language.

Women are at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, as health workers, scientists, doctors, and caregivers. They’re also translators, linguists, and humanitarians ensuring communications about the virus are clear, accurate, and effective; something that is too often overlooked.  Studies by TWB in Nigeria and Bangladesh found that women are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to information they can understand, as a result of unequal opportunities, less education, and lower literacy levels.

Linguists shape more equal futures by providing vital information, in a language and format people understand. This can equip women with the information they need to make important decisions about their lives. By putting women’s needs at the center of communications efforts, humanitarians can be more effective, helping women achieve equal rights and opportunities. Translators without Borders (TWB) translators like Andreia are making that happen.

translator equal
Andreia Frazão

About Andreia:

  • Based in Coimbra, Portugal
  • Passionate about women’s rights
  • Joined TWB in March 2020 to help respond to COVID-19
  • Donated 385,000 words in English to Portuguese
  • Supported 40 nonprofit organizations with her work

What is your biggest motivation for volunteering with TWB?


When the pandemic broke out here in Portugal, I wanted to help. Of course, when you are faced with a public health crisis, your instinct tells you only a doctor or a scientist can have an important social role. But the more I knew about COVID-19, the more I realized it was not just a worldwide health crisis – it was a worldwide information crisis. And TWB presented me with an opportunity to take action.

Another key motivation is the amazing TWB community. The community forum is where the TWB volunteers and the TWB team come together to make announcements and ask questions about projects, procedures, and the Kató translation platform, but it is so much more than that. It is a place full of enthusiasm and mutual help. It was where my attachment to TWB sprang from.

I was fascinated by everyone’s commitment to TWB’s work – regardless of age, gender, country, religion, and work situation. Even members of the TWB staff volunteer with TWB. And I noticed volunteers continued to work on their tasks, even through difficult circumstances. It feels wonderful to be part of this worldwide community, which takes on the mission of breaking down the world’s language barriers, especially during these difficult times.

Tell us about a project you have worked on this year.


Education has been disrupted by the pandemic, for people all over the world. I translated INEE’s COVID-19 Advocacy Brief – Learning Must Go On to support safe, inclusive learning for the most marginalized people, including those already living in crisis and conflict contexts. Young girls in particular are further affected by forced marriages, and risk of early pregnancy, and domestic and sexual violence. I wanted to be involved in addressing these issues. So I completed a project with Missing Children Europe in which I transcribed focus group discussions aiming to understand why young girls had run away from home. I remember one of the girls in particular. She had run away from a terrible home environment and as a consequence missed out on her education. These children can be helped, first by being listened to, and it’s important that communication happens in the language they are most comfortable with.

When it comes to translating information around the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be accurate, and make sure life-saving messages are effectively conveyed. Translating and interpreting is not just about converting words from one language into another. It is about communication. In sensitive situations such as during a crisis where anxiety, uncertainty and fear are prevalent, translators also bring interpersonal skills to the table. Being more sensitive to emotional cues, knowing if someone is uncomfortable or having a hard time understanding something, and imbuing trust are key.

What’s life like as a TWB translator?


It gave me a sense of purpose right from the start, which has helped me stay positive throughout the COVID-19 crisis. During a lockdown, it is easy to be affected by anxiety or insomnia. Being a TWB volunteer gave me structure, and project deadlines helped me create a meaningful routine.

It also made me more confident, thanks to the positive input I received from other volunteers. I remember once, a fellow TWB translator left me a feedback note saying my work was one of the best translations they had seen in the translation platform. It made my day. I also feel that the project managers trust my work, as they often contact me to work on full, sometimes urgent projects. That is very encouraging. Thanks to TWB I found motivation to hone dormant language skills and put them to good use.

Finally, in TWB, I met several people with whom I share a common set of values and a common outlook on life, and who have become my friends.

Which women do you look up to and why?


Brave Malala Yousafzai is the perfect symbol for all the women I look up to. I deeply admire her for her unwavering fight for girls’ right to education, but that is far from the only reason. I also admire her for her genuine honesty and kindness, her irresistible charisma, and her jovial outlook on life. She turned hate into love and ignorance into hope.

Some of Andreia’s favorite women-focused groups include:

Andreia Frazão

How can humanitarian translation help women be more included?


Humanitarians play a key role in raising awareness and fighting gender-based violence and stigma. Humanitarian work is also vital to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (PSEAH). Translators amplify these efforts by translating guidance, research, advocacy messages and informative materials intended for the public. They also make sure vital information is in the right language for affected people.

A great introduction to the topic is the TED Talk by TWB’s wonderful CEO, Aimee Ansari, “How to change the world through language whilst sitting on your sofa.” She opens with a heartbreaking story. In a desperate attempt to save her starving child, a mother carried her for hours, the only nutritional information available to her written in a language she could neither speak nor read.

Girls and women are often among the most vulnerable in any group, and this story is a key example of that. It also shows why TWB’s work is so important – by providing organizations and people with the information they so need and want in their own language, we can help save lives.

Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Use the hashtags #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 and #LanguageMattersNow

Sign up as a translator here

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications and Engagement Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Andreia Frazão, Translator for TWB. 

Lessons still to be learned from recent Ebola outbreaks in DRC

Ebola continues to threaten communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In order to be prepared for future outbreaks, responders need to learn from previous responses and adapt their community engagement approaches to local circumstances. They need to do this with an understanding of specific language and communication needs in affected communities. For any future response to be most effective, this needs to happen early. 

Responding to the 2020 Ebola outbreak in Equateur

During health crises, it is especially important to get communication right. This means carefully considering the preferred languages, channels, and formats of information in communication with communities. Ebola is endemic in the region and it is unlikely to disappear any time soon. Unfortunately, both communicators and responders in DRC have a lot of experience with Ebola outbreaks. After the 2018-2020 Ebola response in North Kivu, responders acknowledged the importance of considering communication and language in preparedness planning for future responses. Unfortunately, the 2020 response to the Ebola outbreak in Equateur highlighted that there are still lessons to be learned about centering language and communication in crisis responses.

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Context in Equateur

Equateur was the location of the 9th Ebola outbreak in DRC in 2018. After the 2018-2020 10th Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, Equateur was once again affected by Ebola in the 11th outbreak in 2020. The threat of Ebola is not new to communities in Equateur. Unlike the location of the previous Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, Equateur is not the location of any active armed conflict. However, the province faces its own humanitarian challenges, including critical malnutrition, flooding, and difficulty of access to remote areas. Like most of DRC, Equateur is incredibly linguistically diverse. An important dynamic to consider in Equateur when communicating with communities is access to information, services, and rights for indigenous communities

Quality information on languages spoken by people experiencing health crises

To fully support communities and health workers, it is important to take language into account when planning activities. Our research and work with our NGO partners found that many of the recommendations for responders in eastern DRC apply also to the response in Equateur. TWB’s research and language team conducted a study in Bikoro and Mbandaka on language and communication barriers for the Ebola response. The team conducted focus group discussions and individual interviews with health communicators, members of the community, and humanitarians. Our research focused especially on access to information for different groups, including indigenous communities, women, youth, and older members of the community. To inform and reinforce our qualitative research, TWB works with partners to collect quantitative language data to map languages spoken locally. This up-to-date language data collected with communities and partners helps TWB to deliver evidence-based language support. For Equateur, TWB has mapped spoken languages in Equateur and neighboring provinces by health zone to support responders.

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Local languages matter

In DRC, responders are learning to go beyond French in risk communication and community engagement, and are starting to consider national languages such as Lingala in regional responses. With more than 200 languages spoken in DRC however it is important to look at more local languages such as Mongo or Ngombe in Equateur. 

Similar to French and Swahili in North Kivu, our research found that most health communication resources in Equateur, including posters and tools for community workers, are provided in French or sometimes Lingala. Communities and health workers need to be equipped with information in other local languages. One research participant in the village of Iyembe Munene told us, “We receive the information in Lingala, but the best way for us to receive the information is in Ntomba (a local language), because if it passes in Ntomba there is understanding of the messages.” Even Lingala, one of the four national languages of DRC, has its variants. The Lingala spoken in Equateur is known as Lingala facile which borrows words from local languages as well as French. 

Indigenous communities in the Lake Tumba area (often referred to as Batwa) told us that they also prefer to receive information in local languages. They prefer to receive that information face-to-face from someone from their community who can navigate the specificities of the variant of local languages spoken in their communities. One research participant in Elanga said, “We prefer to communicate with the health workers in Twa, but they do not understand our dialect.” 

Terminology is key for comprehension and trust

Terminology is important in health communication. In eastern DRC a key lesson was that people didn’t appreciate dehumanizing terms, for example referring to those sick with Ebola as “cases”. Research participants in North Kivu identified the term cas suspect as having criminal connotations. The same issue came up in Equateur where research participants said that “suspect case” had criminal connotations and could also be associated with users of witchcraft. 

Furthermore, as in eastern DRC, in Equateur we found that some concepts are difficult to translate into local languages and some words continue to be communicated in other languages without translation or without consistent translation. One health communicator from Mapeke acknowledged, “There are difficulties, especially if the communicator speaks French, English words and even […] Kinshasa Lingala and Lingala Makanja which is [harder to understand].”

Problematic terminology can endanger communities and undermines communities’ trust in responders. The lack of trust in eastern DRC had serious consequences for communities and responders alike in the 10th Ebola outbreak. 

Lessons to be learned - Ebola, DRC
Mbandaka, DRC.

Language and communication needs must be considered for responders to be accountable to people who need information

After the end of the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, reports of sexual exploitation came to light. Survivors reported not knowing how to report abuse or make complaints. Our research participants in Equateur reported a similar lack of information about reporting mechanisms. Alongside improving communication around reporting, it is important to ensure that feedback mechanisms and support offered to survivors are accessible to all, including speakers of marginalized languages. A research participant from Bokaka told us, “We prefer to give our opinions to people who listen to us and who respect us, and we prefer to do the interviews in person to express ourselves clearly.” We have found that offering information and services in people’s preferred languages, channels, and formats can facilitate trust and mutual respect between responders and communities.

Key recommendations for humanitarian responders in the DRC

  • Integrate language data questions into data collection
  • Translate community-facing materials into local languages; field test them to make sure they are understood and acceptable to local people
  • Equip health workers with appropriate tools and training in the relevant languages

During our research and activities in Equateur, health communicators and communities shared their experiences with us. It is important that all responders learn from the mistakes of past health interventions and prioritize communication and language needs to be better prepared to respond to future health crises.

Funded by UNICEF and UK Aid, TWB put in place a local team of researchers and language experts in Equateur to support partners in the 11th Ebola response in Equateur in 2020. 

TWB’s tools for Ebola responses in DRC can be found on our site. Materials and tools are available in English, French, and local languages. To find out more about TWB’s activities in DRC please contact [email protected]

Written by Laure Venier, TWB’s Program Coordinator, DRC.

Meet Aghilas: sharing accurate information with the Arabic-speaking world

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 translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Meet Aghilas 

  • A TWB translator who has donated 70,287 words from English to Arabic, as of February 2021
  • Loves his beautiful hometown of Bizerte, Tunisia
  • A night-owl, who prefers to translate at night!

Where did it all begin? 

In his home city of Bizerte, Tunisia, Aghilas wanted to offer his professional services to international humanitarian organizations to support people in need. It all came from a desire to support communities that have been marginalized, in countries affected by war, and people facing gender-based violence. He thought volunteering as a translator would enable him to better establish his career, offering useful professional experience along the way. He found the opportunity he had been looking for in TWB. On discovering TWB, Aghilas found an organization with values that matched his own, and a shared mission to make crucial information accessible to people in a language they understand. 

Aghilas’ home city of Bizerte,  the northernmost city in Africa. For him, it’s the epitome of the Tunisian way of life, culture and history. 

Daily devotion 

Like many of us over the last year, Aghilas works online from home. Pandemic restrictions left his translation schedule largely unaffected. Even before the lockdown, Aghilas enjoyed a routine, devoting three hours each evening to volunteering as a translator and reviser. It’s a practice he has stuck to almost daily, which has allowed him to focus on bigger revision tasks for TWB. In doing that, he has translated over 70,000 words for 25 different nonprofit organizations. 

The main project of focus in recent months informed people about “Public health and social measures for COVID-19 response in low capacity and humanitarian settings.” The guidance is intended for humanitarians working with communities and local authorities to reduce the risk of spread and the impact of the disease. It was developed in collaboration with the American Red Cross (ARC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), UNICEF, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UNHABITAT), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) members. Aghilas saw it as his responsibility to devote time to revising as many COVID-19-related documents as he could. He was determined to further the dissemination of accurate, credible information to the Arabic-speaking world and support people through the pandemic.

Asked how volunteering with TWB has impacted his life, Aghilas responded:

“It is truly a life experience. I am proud that I dedicated my skills for a good, noble cause, and made a difference in the worldwide community. Through my translations I supported those in need, provided them with basic and crucial information, and even helped save lives.”

He goes as far as to say it shaped a new approach to translation for him. 

“In fact, I believe that translation not only has the power of bridging communication gaps between cultures but it can forge a better world for affected populations as it responds to the challenges they face and prevents the occurrence of disasters.”

Three memorable moments with TWB 

Aghilas says that after just one year volunteering with TWB, he has some great memories to share. 

  1. Winning third prize in the Translation Marathon in September 2019.
  2. Receiving a recommendation letter on LinkedIn from my lovely mentor, Ambra, TWB’s Senior Community Officer. 
  3. Achieving my goal of donating 70,000 words!  
“This is the same place I volunteer daily for TWB” – Aghilas shows off his Arabic Translation Marathon prize, a personalized TWB t-shirt. In front of him is his TWB translation word count, standing at 70,287 at the time of the photo.

Aghilas reminisces, “It has been a fruitful and rewarding journey. I have enjoyed every day with TWB so far. It has been a great adventure that I will never forget. Indeed, words cannot describe how grateful I am for the whole TWB team.”

Three tips from Aghilas on volunteering as a translator

  1. Join TWB to gain confidence and experience as a translator, especially if you’re a beginner looking to take the first steps in your career.
  2. Check your notification settings to ensure you see new tasks in your language pair.
  3. Practice as much as possible: hard work always pays off. 

He explains, “You are part of an honorable humanitarian mission to share vital information and improve this world, making it a safer place to live. Believe me, every word matters.”

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB. Interview responses by Aghilas Ait Mihoub, Volunteer Translator for TWB. 

Sifat Noor: treading undiscovered paths

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 translators, and we love sharing their stories.

On World Humanitarian Day 2020, TWB translator Sifat Noor was featured among four Bangla “humanitarian heroes.” He was hailed for his contribution “in translating critical, potentially life-saving information into Bangla, so more people have the information they need to lead safe, healthy, and informed lives.” 

In his short time with the TWB community, Sifat has worked for organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Refugee Agency. His projects focus on education, cancer awareness, and healthcare. More recently he has translated COVID-19 information to inform Bangla speakers about the pandemic. Yet for Sifat, 2020 has been somewhat of a whirlwind. He only began volunteering in March 2020. Almost unbelievably, this was his first foray into the industry.

Sifat loves to share knowledge

“I learned about the greatest linguist in history, Kató Lomb. A polyglot, who graduated in physics and chemistry, learned about 25 languages, and could work with 16 of them! TWB honored this noble woman and I was impressed to see such thoughtfulness. I couldn’t think of a better name, ‘Kató Platform,’ for our workspace.”

Part of the community

Sifat already thrives on being part of the TWB community: 

“Although I’ve never seen or met anyone in person, I always have this notion that I have good friends in different countries. TWB has a wonderful team that gives the volunteers a sense of belonging.” 

Sifat Noor.

Each of our 30,000 linguists belongs to a network which benefits from opportunities to explore the industry, develop new skills, and build confidence in translation.

The 2020 Community Survey asked TWB translators where in the world they are. Explore the survey results here

New ways of work in 2020

Sifat has worked through the drastic and surprising global impacts of COVID-19. Individuals have lost jobs, classes have stopped, and we are all familiarizing ourselves with the “new normal.” The wake of the outbreak has often meant not being able to participate in activities in person, so Sifat has embraced the opportunity to volunteer remotely to reach people in need. The challenges of 2020 and his excellent grasp of English and Bangla pushed him towards an undiscovered interest in translation. Despite not having explored an interest in translation before, he’s always been an enthusiastic writer and language lover who wanted to do good for others, making this the perfect role for him. In our interview, Sifat expressed his ardent belief in seeking out new experiences: “Through volunteering I am exploring this field, learning new techniques, honing my language skills and helping people… all at the same time!”

“We all can contribute to humanity.”

“I wish [the translation platform] would work better on smartphones!” says Sifat, explaining how seriously he takes his volunteering duties. He carves out time and space in his daily life, before and after work. 

2020 presented us the biggest language challenge in history, and Sifat is proud to have played a part. We explored some of his most fascinating projects: 

“TWB has given me access to many projects that are vital for humanity. I found translating the International Security and Development Center’s survey questions fascinating, I loved the way they organized the opinion polls and it was apparent that the outcomes would propose some life-changing solutions. I also want to mention RCoA, World BEYOND War, and of course, the works of the COVID Infographics Team.” Infographics like these have been key this year, to share vital information in a digestible and understandable format. Ultimately, these projects help more people keep safe, healthy and informed in the pandemic.

Some parting words from Sifat – lessons learned from others in our community:

“It may look like some simple translation, but we all are working for people. Although our works are seldom visible, you never know whose lives you’re improving, or even saving.”

Sifat Noor

For that reason, we thank you all for your commitment as always, through 2021 and beyond.

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB. With interview responses by Sifat Noor, Volunteer Translator for TWB.

Language and data-driven humanitarian action: 5 takeaways from a recent global discussion

In one word, what comes to mind when you think about language and data collection?

Challenging, expensive, necessary.

These are some of the answers we heard from attendees at a roundtable discussion TWB facilitated during the 2020 GeOnG Forum

Earlier this month, we were joined by panelists from IMPACT Initiatives, Mercy Corps, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). We spoke about the role of language for data-driven humanitarian action and – crucially – how addressing language barriers can enable affected people to make their voices heard. The panelists shared their experiences and gave examples of why language is relevant at different stages of the data collection process. Here are five main conclusions from the discussion that are relevant for staff of any humanitarian organization that collects data:

1. Consult data on the languages people speak in the targeted area.

Some countries have sufficient data from government censuses to make an informed decision about the relevant language(s) targeted people speak and understand. However, this data isn’t always freely accessible, or easily verifiable. TWB is working with IMPACT Initiatives and other partners to make language data readily available to organizations that listen to and communicate with crisis-affected people. You can also collect this data during your survey to help fill the data gap. 

Image from IDMC.

2. Address language bias throughout the data collection process.

Language is usually only taken into account in the preparation phase when survey tools are translated into local language(s). This is often done hastily, without checking the translation quality. Mercy Corps highlighted the need to think carefully about language at each stage, from planning to data analysis and dissemination. This includes translating common questions and answers into as many languages as possible and with appropriate quality assurance procedures as a preparedness measure.

3. Support enumerators as needed and don’t make assumptions about their language skills.

Enumerators often take on many roles: administer a survey, but also act as interpreters, cultural mediators, program specialists and organizational representatives. Language support can take some of the burden off enumerators. Testing their literacy levels and comprehension of key terms can help screen enumerators and identify those that need additional training. Tools like glossaries can help them provide consistent and accurate translations of key terms in local languages and be confident that the person they are interviewing understands them.  

TWB research assistants interview Rohingya women in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, Bangladesh. Photo by Irene Scott/TWB (2018)

4. Identify ways to deal with unstructured data.

Asking open-ended questions or including “other” as an answer option can allow us to understand a situation in the words of affected people themselves. But this data can be particularly difficult to translate and understand. Regular debriefs with enumerators during data collection can help check the quality of any free text data. Translating open-format answers into a language the data analysis team understands as soon as possible after the data is collected was another lesson highlighted during the session. 

5. Use technology solutions appropriate to the context.

This could involve using a simple voice recorder as a quality assurance mechanism for multilingual surveys, as IDMC has piloted in northeast Nigeria. In other contexts, this might mean using Google Translate or other machine translation engines to translate information at speed. But this technology works best for major languages and machine translation needs to be approached with caution about anonymity and privacy. TWB and IMPACT Initiatives are developing machine translation and speech recognition tools adapted to humanitarian contexts and marginalized languages. Watch this space!  

Interested to find out more? Check out this infographic with more than 20 language tips for effective humanitarian data collection. Watch the video-recording of the session here. And find information about the other sessions of the GeOnG Forum here.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Communication Officer for TWB

TWB Community Survey Results 2020 are out!

In September 2020 we conducted a survey of our translator community. As a community, you told us that you are keen to work more with us. But you also told us that we need to improve our systems and become better at communicating with you. We’ve heard you, and we’re changing how we do some things.

As you read this blog please check out the interactive data visualizations here. Click the legend to display the survey data by geographic location or as a graph, and use the filter function to correlate age data by employment status or volunteer satisfaction. 

As we reviewed the survey results, we were overwhelmed by the passion, drive, and motivations of our diverse community of translators. Thank you for your dedication and skills. 

Here is some of what we learned: 

Our community is diverse

Half of the respondents are under the age of 34.  This suggests that we successfully recruit students and young professionals, but have room to grow with more experienced and retired linguists.  While respondents come from 150 countries, the majority reports living either in the US, the UK, or Nigeria.  Almost 30% of respondents report being part of a diaspora community which we are keen to involve more in our community efforts in the coming year. 

Our community is primarily motivated by helping others

25% of survey respondents indicate that their primary reason for volunteering with TWB is to help others and contribute to a good cause.  20% are motivated by working with a humanitarian organization.  33% of respondents indicate that gaining professional skills and learning new skills are key motivators for them. We are eager to understand in greater detail what skills community members want to acquire so we can offer relevant translation training opportunities in 2021.

Photo from Nigeria country office, July 2018.

Our community is highly satisfied with their experience

72% of volunteers reported that they are “likely” or “extremely likely” to recommend TWB to a colleague.  When asked what TWB could do to improve the experience, many requested more communication from TWB, specifically around what we do and the impact of our work. Some also mentioned better tutoring and onboarding of new community members into the system and processes, and instilling a better sense of community.  We have taken this feedback on board and we plan to increase our email communication and to add virtual meet-ups to share updates and hear from the community directly. 

Our community wants more content to translate

One theme that runs through almost all the comments is that community members want more content to translate.  “Find more tasks in my language pair” is the number one request community members have. 

2020 has been a challenging year for TWB; we saw spectacular growth not only in the community but also in the content that humanitarian organizations asked us to translate.  However, not all language pairs are in equal demand; at times there is a lack of content for language pairs where we have a very active community.  Since we want to make sure that all community members get a chance to translate, we will need to find a better balance between the volume of content we offer and the interest of the community.  This problem has no easy answer, but will demand some better planning and creativity at our end. 

Our community wants a better translation platform and tools

The feedback we received about the TWB translation environment clearly indicates that our platform is outdated and not very user-friendly. For the Kató Platform specifically, the feedback is that “The interface is difficult and confusing to navigate.” For Kató TM, our online CAT tool, the general feedback is that we need to provide more training. “Make things simpler,” “Make things more understandable,” and “Provide training” are frequently repeated comments.  We are reviewing our translation environment and will soon introduce changes that should alleviate some of the pain that especially new translators feel. These changes will be gradual but should address some of the feedback we received in the 2020 survey. 

We’re looking forward to being even better in 2021

The TWB community more than doubled in 2020. We attribute this growth mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which motivated many translators to combat the spread of the virus by translating COVID-related information. With your help we translated more than 5.5 million words of COVID-19 content. This is an outstanding community achievement that has positively impacted the lives of countless people.

But we know we can’t keep doing things the way we always have. 

We appreciate the time you took to respond to the survey and are grateful that you are helping us grow as an organization. Together we will give even more information to people in a language that they understand. We look forward to working with you in the new year.

Written by Manuela Noske, Community Manager for TWB.