Volunteer interview: Farideh colthart
More than 1 million migrants came to Europe in 2015, mostly from Syria but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Eritrea, amongst other countries. The majority arrived by sea with many experiencing traumatic journeys. Reception centers struggled to cope with the linguistic barriers, complicating efforts to help those seeking a safe haven. To help address this problem, Translators without Borders (TWB) is playing a significant role in the provision of translators and interpreters one of whom is Farideh Colthart, a native Farsi speaker with a professional background as an osteopath. Farideh’s medical expertise and legal knowledge mean that she has an invaluable skillset and can act as a link between asylum seekers and aid workers.
Helping refugees understand
Farideh is a regular visitor to Greece’s refugee camps in and around Athens. She explains, “Asylum seekers can be disorientated by an alien environment. They don’t understand the local language and are confused about how things work. Many cannot read or write, which makes things even more difficult. This can also be said for communication with people who speak dialects that Farsi- and Dari- speakers cannot understand. In these cases we have to seek help from others to interpret for us.”
“My work is with asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iran,” she says, “aiding them to understand the asylum-seeking process. This work is immensely satisfying – particularly when I can see how I am helping make a difference. One initiative in which I was involved has proven particularly successful. This involved the design of a leaflet with a map of Athens on one side and key links on the other such as food or clothing points, showers, and medical services. The map had used words but also symbols for those who cannot read. On a subsequent visit to Athens I was able to see how helpful this was to new arrivals. It was so rewarding!“
A voice for both sides
Born in Tehran and educated in the UK, Farideh empathizes with those parachuted into a very different cultural environment. Since qualifying as an interpreter she has devoted more and more time to helping asylum seekers. She has worked for TWB since 2015 when she was introduced to the organization through a colleague. Meanwhile, regular work for the UK Home Office, local councils and other agencies means that she travels around the country to support Afghans and Iranians who already have refugee status.
“This work is immensely satisfying – particularly when I can see how I am helping to make a difference.”
Through her work, Farideh has noticed many Afghan women struggling with bringing up their children in a westernized society when their lives at home still reflect a patriarchal culture. She said it can lead to family conflicts, feelings of loss of control and social alienation. Farideh explains that she seeks to help them with their day-to-day needs, whether related to housing, children’s education or health. “I also help to run a support group for women for the Refugee Council. This encourages integration through social activities. Through my work with councils and especially with TWB, every day I see the crucially important role of communication in improving people’s lives and life chances. Language matters and I can be a voice for both sides: those who need help and those who seek to help them.”
By Sarah Powell, Translators without Borders volunteer