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
- 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
- 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.
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.