Humanitarian voices

This World Humanitarian Day, August 19, 2022, we want to honor humanitarians everywhere by sharing our community’s voices. The UN theme for the celebration is “It takes a village” – whether you are a language lover, a teacher or a nonprofit worker, whatever you do to support people in difficult situations – you are a humanitarian. This is your story, too. We’re thankful to our global network of humanitarian volunteers, colleagues, and partners for sharing their stories of humanitarian impact. Follow the hashtag #TWBHumanitarian to see our community’s latest updates.

The TWB community, our team, volunteers, and supporters have been making a big impact on the lives of people all around the world. By translating vital materials, and helping build two-way communications tools, we’re opening up important conversations for more people, everywhere, whatever language they speak.

TWB's World Humanitarian Day 2022 image saying: It takes people. It takes the right language. #ItTakesAVillage

 #ItTakesAVillage

One word at a time – in the right languages. It takes a village, so we’re bringing people together to effectively respond to people’s needs. Last month, we shared our #RefugeesVoices blog, recording the stories of Lilav Mohamad Alarashi and Christina Hakim, Arabic speakers and valued TWB community members who have experience as or supporting refugees. 

To mark the occasion, we’re sharing more voices from our community. Chris Akili Lungu and Josias Ntirampeba share their accounts of being forced to flee their home countries and make new lives elsewhere. The stories are personal accounts of troubling times, by people who have made it their mission to use their language skills for good.

As a TWB community member, you can help make sure people get accurate answers fast, in a language they can understand. Learn more about the role, and sign up today.

Tell your story – tag #TWBHumanitarian

Have you supported with language or observed it in action in humanitarian aid? Share your story on social media and use the hashtag #TWBHumanitarian.

Today is a day to come together and show how language can make a real impact in humanitarian work (remember no punctuation or your hashtag won’t work). Tag us @Translators without Borders on LinkedIn and Facebook, @TranslatorsWB on Instagram or @CLEARGlobalOrg on Twitter, so we can share your stories.

Chris Akili Lungu tells his story

Chris Akili Lungu is a TWB Community member, social worker, and Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator working with an NGO supporting young people. Chris himself fled the Democratic Republic of Congo a few years ago. His story might be familiar.

Chris appeared on our LinkedIn Live panel discussion in June 2022 to mark World Refugee Day. We featured community members and partners who discussed the challenges facing displaced people, what they’re doing to help, and how you can get involved. Watch the recording on YouTube or LinkedIn.

Chris Akili Lungu, TWB community member and Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, on language barriers and life as a refugee

I am Chris, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently living in Kampala, Uganda, and working with Soccer Without Borders, an international nonprofit organization that supports refugee youth living in Kampala and surrounding areas. In the past, I worked with Solidarity Eden Foundation as an Education Program Coordinator and English instructor. I helped hundreds of refugees to learn the English language: a vital tool for survival in Kampala given that Uganda is an English-speaking country. 

As a refugee myself from a French-speaking country (DR Congo) now living in a country where I did not speak any of the languages that were spoken, I knew what it was like. I had first-hand experience with the challenges that language barriers caused my fellow refugees, especially those from Burundi, South Sudan, and Congo 

From a lack of access to information to unemployment and even lack of access to legal and mental health services; I saw many people’s hope fading due to these language barriers which were creating a huge gap between them and the services they needed. These services in the host country, Uganda, provided people with a second chance in life, to explore the talents and skills they had acquired in their countries of origin.

Right after completing my own English training, I became an interpreter with the UNHCR and I helped to bridge this gap between the service providers and refugees in my community but I soon realized that it wasn’t enough. That’s why I decided to join Solidarity Eden Foundation as an English teacher and later on as the Education Program Coordinator. I am glad Translators without Borders still provides me with translation and revision opportunities to help other people struggling with language barriers.

– By Chris Akili Lungu

TWB community member Josias Ntirampeba shares his story

Josias Ntirampeba, TWB community member
Josias Ntirampeba is a student at the University of Nairobi’s Center for Translation and Interpretation. He will soon be graduating with a diploma in Community Interpretation.

The learning never stops

In 2015, my mother told me that learning never stops. She said this to encourage me to learn more when I felt like I was done with my studies. 

I was in my first year at university when I told my mother that in two years’ time I was going to finish school and start working to earn money and enjoy life. In her sweet words, she commented on my idea that it is good to work for money and enjoy life as much as possible, especially when I am enjoying my well-earned savings. 

When she sat with her children and grandchildren, she talked nonstop. She had incredible stories. I remember one day she told us a story of our grandfather who, when he was very young, went to Uganda to look for money. After he got there, he faced a lot of problems, especially language barriers. He spoke neither the Ugandan language nor English. It was very difficult for him to earn money. He wanted to go home but that wasn’t an option – he had no money for transportation. He said if he knew the languages spoken in Uganda, it would have been a great opportunity for him. 

He was skilled in many things, but at that time he failed to express his talents. He couldn’t go on stage and make people happy as he did in his home country. He was a famous humorist, and a great comedian, but the language barrier got him down. 

My mother turned to me and told me that I am her first child who went to college out of all her children and grandchildren. She said that in addition to the skills I learn at university, I need to know several languages. She told me that each country has its own languages and that talented people like me often need to travel abroad for professional reasons. 

At the time, I didn’t believe that one day I would have to leave my country. I told her that in Burundi, French is the language of work and I speak it well. She replied that sometimes, for better or for worse, there will always be reasons to travel abroad. She was sadly killed during the strikes which happened during former Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term. After her death, I finally understood that what she said was right: 

“Sometimes, for better or for worse, there will always be reasons to travel abroad.”

It was like a prophecy.

The language prophecy

I traveled to Kenya when I didn’t want to. I was forced to leave my homeland and when I arrived there in the Kakuma refugee camp, I faced the same language challenges that my grandfather had faced when he traveled to Uganda all those years ago. I didn’t know how to speak Swahili, I didn’t speak English fluently either, I only knew French and my mother tongue. I remembered all the stories my mother told us. I met many refugees who faced the same; none of us were able to go to a camp office and talk about our concerns on our own. We struggled to get jobs despite our skills and qualifications. The opportunities that came along the refugee path were limited, especially those that required us to be fluent in English and Swahili. Just like my grandfather, I couldn’t go home. I imagined a lot of my life was going to be like this. 

The trouble was, that I needed to remind myself of what they said when I was still in school in my native country. Everyone in the village, even the teachers, told me that I was a brilliant student. I excelled, and could always solve problems where others couldn’t. 

One day I was sitting alone in my house, the night felt too long, as did the day. I remembered that I am still capable, despite the problems I face, and realized I could overcome this language barrier. This was the best solution for many refugees who shared my problem. 

Learning languages and life skills

I am convinced that one way to overcome a problem is to accept it. The other is to fight it. Most of my neighbors from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda, Pakistan, and Yemen don’t speak English or Swahili. They all communicate in their mother languages – and don’t understand the language of their neighbors. Somehow, we need to overcome this problem. I did my own research and realized that many organizations like the DRC (Danish Refugee Council), SAVIC, and all branches of DON BOSCO teach English for free. I passed on this information to fellow refugees. 

I was the first to register my name for a course near my home. Not everyone took up this opportunity simply because of the hardships of daily life. Often, we couldn’t attend classes, because we were too busy looking for manual labor to support our families. 

After a few days, I also had to leave class. I was curious. I had a smartphone and I decided to learn on my own simply because when I go to school, I only learn two hours a day, six hours a week. I wanted to learn English as quickly as possible. During the day, I’d hustle like the others, but at night, I started to teach myself until I was too tired to carry on. I dedicated myself to memorizing 50 new English words a day and I couldn’t eat or sleep if I didn’t remember every word. 

I downloaded a French-English dictionary, an English-Swahili dictionary, and a grammar book. I’d read them before bed and never slept before midnight. I conditioned myself

to wake up at 3 am to revise, as the day was spent struggling to obtain daily food. I taught myself not to give up when it gets tough. 

My perseverance rewarded me with fluency in English and Swahili. I came to this camp in 2019 and after a few months of dedicated language learning, I was able to communicate without a problem. With that, I got my first job at the IRC General Hospital and while working there, I started an English club in my neighborhood where I taught English every evening from 7 to 9 p.m. 

A few weeks after the English club was founded, the African Higher Education In Emergencies Network (AHEEN) awarded a scholarship to refugees, the first cohort in community interpreting. I applied, was selected, and will soon be graduating from the University of Nairobi, Center for Translation and Interpretation with a Diploma in Community Interpretation.

“Today, I am proud of my mother’s last words which encouraged me to work hard every day.”

I am also proud of my own efforts as today I am the president of the organization of students and refugees who are supported by AHEEN and Youth, Education and Sport (YES). These students are taking the community interpreting course at the University of Nairobi and the entrepreneurship course at MOI University. I translate for my local church and am one of the founders of INTER-FREE, a community-based organization whose aim is to provide professional interpreting and translation services to bridge communication gaps, and capacity building for interpreters and translators (including coaching, and mentoring). Our CBO is dedicated to supporting refugees and host communities, with the help of its volunteer members.

“As far as I go, as far as I come.”

– By Josias Ntirampeba

Add your voice to the conversation

Thank you to all our community members and supporters who already work hard to make global conversations accessible in a multitude of languages. With your help, we’re equipping humanitarians with the tools they need to communicate and support people effectively in the right languages. 

#ItTakesAVillage to make a difference. Please show solidarity with people who need it the most. Make communication about vital topics accessible in their languages.

Share your own experiences and stories with language in humanitarian aid with the hashtags #ItTakesAVillage and #TWBHumanitarian.

If you can, donate to help us reach more people.

If you speak one or more languages fluently, you could join our community to offer your language, translation, revision, or voiceover skills on a voluntary basis. Learn more about becoming part of our community. 

Refugee voices

Communicating and connecting as a refugee

Imagine being forced from your home because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations. Seeking safety is dangerous. Especially when you find yourself somewhere new, when you don’t speak the language of the people around you, let alone the aid workers trying to help you. You are vulnerable to scammers and traffickers. You can’t ask the questions you want to ask, and you can’t get the information you need. That’s the story of people in all corners of the world: the story we’re telling today through the lens of our community members.

89.3 million people worldwide don’t have to imagine.

Refugees, migrants and forcibly displaced people deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard. Vulnerable people face some of the most difficult situations imaginable. Marginalized at the edges of society, too often their needs and concerns go unmet. Together, we can change that.

How can we show solidarity with refugees?

Photo of a woman cooking

When we put people first, when we prioritize access to vital services, resources and information, we can better support their wellbeing, health, safety and education. When we do so in the languages people speak, their worlds, which have already been turned upside down, become a little fairer. They get to know their rights, they can make informed decisions, their opportunities grow, and they can participate in dialogue that matters to them. 

Our members bring diverse experiences to the TWB community, of resilience, of overcoming difficult journeys, of integrating into new communities, and understanding their identities. Many have been displaced from their homes, and still find time to dedicate to translating, reviewing and recording voice-overs so they can help people elsewhere. We want to share their voices with you, and start a conversation. This is part of our movement to listen to marginalized voices everywhere, whatever language they speak. Learn more about our Four Billion Conversations movement

Read these community member stories

Lilav Mohamad Alarashi and Christina Hakim are Arabic speakers and valued TWB community members who have both contributed their stories to spotlight real-life refugee experiences in the world today.

Lilav’s story of war and its archenemy, hope

Can you imagine yourself as a child during a war, with your playgrounds replaced by battlefields filled with dead bodies, blood, and rubble?

Or, for example, all the delight of colors which were shining in your life disappeared, and now you are haunted by the dust of war and the smell of death wherever you turn?

Have you ever imagined that your existence in your own home would turn into a nightmare that can transform your whole life into a living hell?

These horrible imaginations are exactly what thousands of children and refugees experience today in several places around the world. Wars and conflicts can truly destroy everyone’s future and leave them living in very bad conditions, where they have to start from zero. They face an obscure life and future. Loss and waiting are the two biggest pains experienced by refugees during their long journey of displacement, and every refugee’s heart is heavy with fear and anticipation.

Besides all of that, the scars and memories will bleed deeply even if they move to safe settings where they can be in peace.

Wars never stop killing everything, but there is always a little hope hidden away in every refugee’ tear that will never fade/disappear.

Translators without Borders and its partner non-governmental organizations provide me with an opportunity as a translator and reviser to help refugees through the delivery of the needed words, information, and knowledge in their language, allowing us all to be there for every refugee who is facing a challenge in a foreign country and a foreign language.

Therefore, I will use every skill I have such as translation experience and every education I’ve obtained, such as law, to make a difference in this universe.

Read in Arabic / اقرأ المدوّنة باللّغة العربيّة

Christina’s day in a life of a refugee

I write in English, hoping to reach a wider audience as I’m sure it is the story of every human, regardless of nationality, who seeks to earn enough to provide for their family, to get out of their country, and bring them up if they’re lucky enough. At times, their motherland has failed to secure them their basic rights of survival as humans; financial and social stability, to name the most vital.

The reasons that pushed that young lady to leave her country, the mother or father who found no choice but to do that, the brother… every story is the same!

I am a Lebanese citizen who, like most migrants, found herself in a no-way-back situation. There’s nothing but to look forward to her children’s future outside of her homeland.

It’s still unofficially stated that “Lebanese” people are defined as refugees. Away from the literal classification of the word, the rush of miseries that hit the country since the #August2020blast and instability has pushed its people to migrate in remarkable numbers for years now.

In the World Happiness Report for the year 2022 issued by the United Nations, Lebanon ranked first in the Arab world among the least happy, and second among the most miserable people after Afghanistan.

What can be more devastating than someone taking the decision to leave behind their child, wife, sibling, parents, neighbor; desperate about a country that is one of the most beautiful on earth, known for its nature, culture, resources and memories?

You reach your host land, and here we face two scenarios: 

The first, a person who flees alone.

The second, a person leaving with their family. And here I mean spouse and children, not parents; it’s incredibly rare to find elderly people who come to terms with leaving their roots behind, whatever the circumstances. 

If you choose to flee alone, if you’re unable to bring your family with you to your host country, your days are never the same again. You live through loneliness, nostalgia with every minute passed, missing the smells, the smiles. What comes next is more dreadful, a constant quest to find the right opportunity, with the least humiliation possible and everything that comes with it. Now how do you go about living? That all depends on your chance of finding a well-paid job, otherwise you’ll end up in a shared apartment with people who have become refugees for the same reasons you have.

What now? You miss your roots? Your only way to connect with them is to text and call. I have known Filippinos who haven’t visited their families in years!

Have a look around when you’re on your commute to work and you can see, be it early morning or late at night. Across Europe, African people gather under a tree with no place to sleep, spending their nights in parks; Egyptians, Syrians, Algerians all share the same destiny, scattered around the world. 

What about your work: remotely located and harsh conditions, with overbearing managers… how much more can you take? Would you respect yourself in that moment and have the courage to change jobs or even return back to your home country?

Sadly speaking, this is the life of every refugee, day-dreaming of the moment they might be reunited with their homeland; this is the life of every human who has lost their existence in their own country.

Community conversation: World Refugee Day

Listening to refugees' voices - World Refugee Day LinkedIn Live announcement

On June 20, 2022 we marked World Refugee Day with an online panel discussion. We invited a number of experts to speak about their experiences of forced migration. This year’s theme was whoever, wherever, whenever. It’s a message of inclusivity, reminding people that all refugees deserve our solidarity and support whatever their nationality, religion, or language. 

You can watch the recording here.

What barriers do refugees, migrants and displaced people face?

Ahmed Ali Saleh hosted the event. Ahmed has spent 3 years working as a National Capacity Building Officer in Nigeria, and is currently a Program Manager for CLEAR Global. He explained how CLEAR Global is committed to helping all refugees overcome communication barriers. Whether fleeing Myanmar, Venezuela, Nigeria, Ukraine, or somewhere else, we work to connect people with the aid and services they need. Our solutions bridge the language and communication gaps too many people face.

 “In the course of implementing training programs, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Borno’s border communities. The state borders three different countries, and this gave me the chance to witness firsthand people with refugee status who cannot speak the language of the country that is hosting them. Equally, the communities hosting them do not speak their language. That is quite challenging. You can see the enthusiasm when we speak their language – they know you understand them very, very well.”

Ahmed Ali Saleh

Joining us, we had Mira Hamour, a Syrian-Canadian documentary filmmaker and producer of Syria’s Tent Cities. Mira spoke about the experience of documenting the Syrian refugee crisis, visiting camps in Jordan and Lebanon as well as closer to home in Toronto and Ontario. She has lived and worked with relocated refugees in host communities.

 “I saw very closely how language and lack of education can be a barrier for these children.”

Mira Hamour

Next on the panel was Chris Akili Lungu, a TWB Community member and social worker and monitoring and evaluation associate working with Soccer Without Borders, an NGO supporting young people. Chris himself fled the Democratic Republic of Congo a few years ago. His story is familiar in our community:

“Through organizations like TWB and Soccer Without Borders, I am glad to be able to help refugees who find themselves in similar situations to me.”

Chris Akili Lungu

And finally, Katya Seriekh is a talent attraction manager working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, based in Brussels. The organization works with professionals including interpreters and translators to make sure migrants and refugees get the protection they need. 

“Language is very important. The words spoken are not everything. It’s very important to establish a connection and establish a relationship of trust. That’s why it’s very important to speak the languages of the people we’re supporting.”

Katya Seriekh

Our participants discussed the challenges facing displaced people, what they’re doing to help, and how you can get involved. Bringing together speakers from across our team, our community and our partners, this LinkedIn Live is an opportunity to learn from each other and understand how we can build a stronger movement together. 

Watch the recording below.

Amplify refugee voices

The TWB Community and our parent organization CLEAR Global will continue to share the stories of refugees, migrants, and forcibly displaced people. This is why we do what we do – we build communities, research communication and develop language technology solutions because we believe that every person has the right to get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Our community members are making information accessible to more people in more languages. Everyone should have a say in their lives and know how to find safety and get help. We exist to listen and connect with people everywhere; thank you for taking the time to read about the experiences of some of our community members. Watch this space for more community voices.

You can help us amplify the voices of refugees: 

Join our community.

Read more community stories.

Contribute your own story on the TWB blog.

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer at TWB/CLEAR Global

Guest writers: Lilav Mohamad Alarashi and Christina Hakim, TWB Community members and translators

Women’s words

Guest post on International Women’s day by Rachel Pierce, TWB community member.

To #BreakTheBias in the language industry, women will need strength, solidarity, and specialization.

International Women’s Day is a good time to assess where the language services industry is in terms of gender equality, and what we can do to advance the agenda.

State of the industry

By all accounts, business is booming. When COVID-19 put the planet on lockdown, the demand for online communication skyrocketed. Businesses had to upgrade their IT infrastructure to support telework, find novel ways to reach customers in their own homes, and rewrite policies and procedures encompassing “the new normal.” The industry grew more than US$5 billion from 2019 to 2021 and continues to rise (Redokun, 2022).

On the gender equality front, things don’t look so encouraging. Although 70% of linguists are women (CSA, 2017), the language services industry is owned and operated by men. Many of the leading language service providers (LSPs) have also become language technology providers. That means the sector is increasingly technology-driven (another field where women are underrepresented). 

RankCompany2020 revenue, in USD millions (CSA, 2021)Ratio of women to men in executive positions
1RWS Holdings$972.781:8 (11.1%)
2TransPerfect$852.423:11 (21.5%)
3Lionbridge$7393:11 (21.5%)
4LanguageLine Solutions$6182:6 (25%)
5Keywords Studios$426.443:6 (33.3%)
Gender representation in senior management at the Top 5 translation companies

How LSPs can #BreakTheBias

As global companies, LSPs should be pioneers in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Here are some specific measures company owners can take right away to improve: 

  • Perform gender pay gap audits and launch other forward-looking DEI initiatives.
  • Be transparent and accountable. Publish the numbers. Gather regular feedback on what’s working (and what’s not) and adapt accordingly.
  • Pursue partnerships to support women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to ensure that the future of machine-assisted translation is open to women.
International Women Day - 4 women hold a sign reading Break the bias.

How we can #BreakTheBias

Whether it’s nature or nurture, women tend to excel at empathy and emotional intelligence. Those are powerful traits we can leverage in our personal and professional lives. But there are other skills that may not come naturally or may take more effort to develop. We can expect change to come from three areas: 

Strength

As women, we can meet other people’s needs but still protect and prioritize our own. In our profession, that means setting boundaries around how much we’re worth and what kinds of projects we’ll accept. Two specific points you may want to consider:

  • Get comfortable talking about money. Translation is usually paid by the word, which can be confusing and vague. And once a project is over, it’s easy to underestimate how long it took and how painful it was (much like childbirth!). Track your time on every project and calculate how much you made per hour. Then you’ll know how fast you are at specific types of content and tools.
  • You don’t have to say Yes. Let me repeat that: You don’t have to say Yes. Even when you’re struggling financially. Emotions are high when you’re worried about money, so you may be inclined to accept something unacceptable. Don’t believe that low rates are the industry “norm.” If an offer from an LSP feels wrong, it probably is. Review the details. Send them a polite email saying, “Thank you, but I can’t accept this.” You will feel empowered, and it will only make you look more valuable.

Solidarity

Solidarity is also strength — in numbers. Working together and supporting other women not only furthers our cause, but it also helps combat the loneliness and fear that can come with freelancing.

  • Support women and minority owned businesses any way you can. 
  • Follow other women on social media and celebrate one another’s achievements.
  • Join a mentoring program, which can be a powerful learning experience for new and veteran linguists alike.
  • Find like-minded women to work with: partner up, join professional women’s organizations in your area, or form a translators collective. 
  • Share information, leads, and advice generously and without expectation. 

Specialization

Remember how I said business is booming in the language services industry? That means job prospects are strong. But the industry is changing and we need to be part of the vision.

  • If you’re starting out in your career, think about your areas of interest and expertise. General subject matter is good for beginners and doesn’t require significant research. But machines can handle general subject matter, so that’s not where the future lies.
  • Once you have experience, pick one or two specializations and develop your potential in those areas. Ask yourself what you’re good at and what you enjoy.
  • Above all, don’t worry. You will not be out of a job in 10 years. Machines can’t translate literature. Machines can’t convincingly sell products and services. Machines can’t convey depth of emotion while interpreting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But you can.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Sources

If you too want to join our community sign up here. 
Explore more of our blog posts to read the stories of other community members.
International Women Day - Rachel Pierce, writer.

Rachel Pierce is a US-based French to English freelancer using her 20 years of industry experience to improve the gender balance and make an impact — one word at a time. She is certified by the American Translators Association (ATA) and l’Ordre des traducteurs terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec (OTTIAQ). She has a master’s degree in French Studies from American University in Washington, DC, and a bachelor’s degree in French Language and Literature from Mary Washington in Virginia. Rachel is a member of Translators without Borders’ volunteer community, the National Language Service Corps, and Women in Localization. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

TWB Community Survey Results 2021 are here!

Community members – what are you asking for?

In late 2021, we asked you to give feedback on your experience as part of the community. In the 2020 survey, we learned that we had a lot of new members join us that very year, and that you were all keen to work with us more.


Let’s see what changes we’ve made, and where there’s still room for improvement. We’re using your feedback to shape our plans for this year and beyond, because we want to make our community work well for you. So tell us, what is your number one priority for 2022?

The results

Here are our key takeaways from our 2021 community survey:

You can also visualize the dashboard here.

We shall keep on listening, learning, and working together as a community – because, managing, building, and engaging with this community is a never-ending process that we hope to keep improving. Thank you for your continued support and feedback.

Our survey highlights are below, and you can also watch this 3-minute video summary:

You are asking for more content to translate.

This is something we have heard consistently across the years and we are still looking for strategies to satisfy this popular request. In 2021, we created more chances for speakers of many languages to interact and engage with each other in our initiatives. We know that this isn’t enough, so we’ll keep working on it. If you know of an NGO that could benefit from our community’s language services, ask them to fill in our form. We’re committed to ensuring that all language communities have dedicated materials to translate.

“More tasks in my language pair would go a long way in helping me gain experience and upskill.”

Female, 18-24, from Cameroon
The TWB community preferences and expectations
The TWB community preferences and expectations

You kept volunteering through the COVID-19 pandemic

Most of you feel that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed the way you volunteer with TWB. Some of you have more free time or are more motivated to volunteer. And for some, volunteering has become complicated because of lifestyle changes.

My husband lost his job and I had to engage myself in earning more which made me more exhausted. Struggling for a decent survival of my own family that has kids, I somehow lost the time, commitment, and tenacity to help others for free.

Female, 35-44, from India

No contribution is too small or too big for us and for people in need. Ten percent of community members volunteer every week. Others volunteer once or twice per year (14% and 12%, respectively). It’s important that you feel you can contribute as much as your schedule allows, and that there are no expectations in terms of how much or how often you volunteer with us.

Graph showing TWB community members' motivations and availability
The TWB community members’ motivations and availability

You are staying with the organization longer. Thank you.

Retention rates are up. In 2020, most of our respondents (62%) had been volunteering for less than a year. In 2021, just 47% of you had been with us less than a year. We have more “veterans” who have been volunteering for more than 5 years (6% of respondents), as well as many people who have already been in the community for 1-2 years (24%). Whether you joined the organization just yesterday, or you have been with TWB for years now – thank you for your support. Your knowledge and skills are and always will be appreciated.

I am happy to be a TWB translator. I do not regret for a single time that I chose to be one of your volunteers. Let’s keep that good work we are doing.

Male, 25-34, from Haiti
A graph showing how much TWB Community Survey responders volunteer with TWB.
Time spent volunteering with TWB

You are eager to learn more.

Two-thirds of respondents indicated that you have a regular day job. We truly appreciate your desire to include TWB in your busy schedule. At the same time, we also get a lot of requests for more training and resources.

I am very happy as it is. I would like more courses to improve the level of the translators and the tools. I really enjoy when we have a gathering in which we analyse some topic!!

Female, 55+, from Uruguay

We already have plans to share new and exciting training and webinars in 2022. Seventy-one percent of respondents have used our resources already. Thanks to your feedback, we are expanding our training offers for the new year – stay tuned for more information.

TWB community training and resource participation statistics
TWB community training and resource participation

Overall, you are happy with your TWB experience.

Eighty-five percent of community members reported that you were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with your TWB experience. Your main motivations for continued support are the satisfaction of helping people in need, and the ambition to gain professional experience and enrich your profiles.

TWB offers a wonderful platform for freelance translators to build up themselves.

Male, 35-44, from Kenya
The TWB community's satisfaction with their TWB experience (51.2% satisfied, 33.9% very satisfied, 13.1% dissatisfied, and 1.8% very dissatisfied).
The TWB community’s satisfaction

It’s a pleasure to hear from you, and to work with you to help people get information and be heard, whatever language they speak. 

Thank you for being part of this amazing journey with us. 

Keep up to date with community news by following TWB on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Follow CLEAR Global on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Written by Ambra Sottile, Senior Community Officer

Meet Jeff and Ursuline: Supporting the African language community

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

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

The African language community at TWB

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

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

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

Swahili skills support people across Africa

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

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

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

Ursuline, Swahili translator

About Ursuline

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

About Jeff

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

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

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

Has working as a translator changed your perspective?

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

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

When do you find time to volunteer for TWB?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you?

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

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


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

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

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

Haitian Creole: a lifeline in Haiti

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

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

About Jean:

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

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

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

Rewind to 2010

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

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

Local community – global impact

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

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

Jean, Haitian Creole translator

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

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

Jean, Haitian Creole translator

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

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

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

Look back on our work in Haiti over the years: 

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

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

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।

।2.47।।

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?

Andreia:

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.

Andreia:

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?

Andreia:

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?

Andreia:

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?

Andreia:

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

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