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


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. 

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