Volunteer story: Translating rumors and helping refugee children express themselves

A TWB volunteer story

Amina Hadjela is a great TWB volunteer story. She became intrigued by Translators without Borders (TWB) after discovering the organization online. The stories of response to major worldwide crises, such the Ebola epidemic in Africa, fascinated her. The more Amina read about TWB, the more she felt compelled to become involved. She describes the feeling as being like a magnet drawing her to the crisis translation projects. She immediately applied to be a volunteer translator for the Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT).

Amina is Algerian, with a Bachelor’s degree in translation. Not content with speaking just Arabic, French and English, she has been learning Chinese since 2015. She sees it as a way of enriching her linguistic experience and hopes to eventually become involved in Mandarin translation and subtitling.

The RRT keeps her busy with daily translations of vital content for refugees such as health care information, news updates and the translation of the ‘Rumours’ fact sheet a publication by Internews which aims to correct misinformation with verified facts for those affected by the European refugee crisis.

A memorable experience

One of the most memorable translation experiences for Amina was a piece reflecting the voices of refugee children. ‘Our eyes, our future, our dreams’ was produced as a special issue of ‘In The Loop’, published by Internews (English version here). It emerged from a series of workshops designed to help Syrian and Afghan children living in refugee camps express themselves in creative ways. In it, the children share why they left their countries of origin, their experiences living in organized sites in Greece, and their dreams for the future.

I became really attached to their memories of their homeland and their dreams. I felt their voices in my head,” Amina recalls. “Sometimes, I imagine how I’d feel if I was a refugee. The answer is probably that I would feel lonely, vulnerable and hopeless even if there were some wonderful people and organizations around me.” She points out that the information translated by the RRTs doesn’t only help refugees; it provides updates about the refugee crisis in multiple languages to anyone who is interested.

Amina reminds us that Nelson Mandela once said ’If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart.’ “TWB definitely speaks to the hearts of refugees,” Amina comments.

“If you have language skills and want to help people in need, you’re most welcome in our team and there are teams for other languages too”

TWB’s goal is to provide people with up-to-date information in a language they can understand and in a format they can access. We aim to close the language gaps. So, do not hesitate to join us and help people for whom your skills are vital.”

Amina has Bachelor’s degree in Translation from Mentouri University of Constantine, Algeria. Since graduating she has worked as a freelance translator for official translation offices in Algeria.

want to volunteer?

Do you want to create your own volunteer story? Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

How To: Use your personal experience for a good cause

Majed Abo dan knows what life is like as a refugee. His story is the story of how personal experience can be used for a good cause.
Majed and his family arrived on Chios island in Greece on 20 March 2016, a day after the EU-Turkey deal took effect. They had traveled as refugees from their home in Aleppo, Syria, seeking safety and security in Europe.

Majed‘s arrival in Greece was chaotic and confusing, especially as people tried to interpret and apply the conditions of the new deal. “The Greek authorities detained us in Vial Camp. There was little information available for us about our legal rights; everything was a total mess,” he recalls.

While on Chios island, Majed showed his compassion for fellow-refugees. He worked with the Norwegian Refugee Council as a food security assistant. “It was the most perfect experience in my life, and it was an honor for me to work with such a respectable NGO.”

In total, Majed and his family lived in Greece for nine months, on the islands of Chios and Leros and later in Athens. He and his family recently arrived in Mainz, Germany, where they plan to settle. He is very happy to be living in Germany, a country that has fascinated him since he was a little boy, describing it as “a dream come true.”

from experience to a good cause

Throughout their time as refugees, Majed was frustrated by the lack of clear information and the abundance of unreliable rumors. He decided to find some answers for himself. “I found a website called News That Moves, which seemed to provide good and true news. I decided to be a part of that team, to help myself and other refugees to find some facts.”

News That Moves is a source of verified information for refugees. It is produced by Internews and translated into three languages by Translators without Borders’ Rapid Response Team (RRT). Majed is now a productive member of the RRT, translating and editing articles almost daily. He is particularly proud to have translated an article on how refugees can obtain a passport or a travel document in Greece. He knows from his own experience how valuable the information in that article is to refugees, and how essential it is to translate it into languages they understand.

“You have to know that information comes from trusted sources, to avoid inaccurate information and rumors”

There have been times when Majed has heard someone relaying information that he or an RRT colleague has translated. When that happens, he confesses, “I feel proud from the deepest part of my heart.” He is convinced that non-governmental organizations, volunteers, and local citizens make a tangible difference in refugees’ lives, noting that “Without them, we would not survive.”

want to volunteer?

Do you want to use your skills for a good cause? Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Majed has some expert advice for anyone thinking of joining the RRT. “Anyone who would like to join us should feel the crisis in their heart and understand the circumstances that led to it. Put yourself in the same position as the victims – then you can translate with your heart not just your words.”

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

Migration is nothing new. The Greeks will tell you that.

The beginning of greek migration

It was the ancient Greeks who gave us the word diaspora, meaning “to scatter or disperse.” Since the time of Alexander the Great, Greeks have been spreading themselves throughout the world. Today, the Greek diaspora spans the globe, its people having integrated themselves into numerous countries, most notably the USA, Australia and Canada. The concept of migration is therefore deeply entrenched in Greek culture. Modern Greeks, whether they live at home or abroad, have an acute sense of what it means to be a migrant. Perhaps that is why the Greek people responded so positively to the European migration crisis. Tens of thousands of refugees have arrived in Greece seeking safety, security and a new start.

Breaking down barriers

Anastasia Petyka was one of many Greeks who tried to make the refugees’ journey easier. With a degree in Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting from the Ionian University on Corfu, she set about breaking down communication barriers between the new migrant populations and the local Greeks. The Translators without Borders Rapid Response Translation (RRT) team gave her the opportunity to do that in a structured way.

“It’s important for refugees and locals to have access to the same information in their native languages. That cultivates trust and allows the locals to support the refugees”

Anastasia typically spends one or two hours per day translating and editing different kinds of texts into Greek. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers like Anastasia, the local population can access the same news articles, regulations or instructions as the aid agencies and the refugees themselves.

She is proud of her country’s efforts to welcome and support refugees, and she thinks this is due to Greek people having such a deep understanding of migration.

At the same time, she is scathing in her criticism of the wider international response to Europe’s refugee crisis. “Refugees have been faced with indifference and abandonment,” she insists. “Europe has shown a cruel face to people in need.” Anastasia is particularly frustrated that her native Greece has been expected to respond while struggling with an economic crisis of its own. “Greeks have experienced migration firsthand, and they know what it means,” she feels. “Unfortunately Greece cannot provide the refugees with the support they need to build their lives again. Ultimately we’ve been left alone to cope with the influx of migrants.”

A memorable experience

Despite the political challenges, Anastasia has channeled her strong sense of justice and her belief in basic human rights to ensure that she contributes as positively as possible to the situation. One of her most memorable experiences was translating a Syrian refugee’s experience traveling to Europe. Anastasia was shocked to learn that this man’s experience had left him feeling that death would have been preferable to making the journey to Europe. “It illustrated reality, but made me feel deeply sad and ashamed of the way the refugee crisis has been handled,” she admits. “To me, facilitating communication to make a difference is what I regard as a ‘high goal,’ and gives me a great sense of satisfaction and achievement.”

Want to volunteer?

Click here to apply to be a volunteer with the TWB Rapid Response Teams.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

Changing the world while sitting on your sofa

Changing the world through language

Listen to Translator without Borders Executive Director, Aimee Ansari talk about changing the world through language at [email protected] in November 2016.

“I believe that… I have to help”

Alaa Amro is Palestinian. She has grown up among Palestinian refugees and the aid workers that support and help them.* Alaa has a deep empathy for people displaced by conflict and is strongly driven to support them.

Joining TWB

In 2016, Alaa came across the Translators without Borders (TWB) website, where she learned that she could develop her skills through volunteering. So she became a member of TWB’s European refugee crisis Rapid Response Team (RRT), translating and editing articles from English into Arabic.

As a linguist, Alaa understands that communication barriers add to the chaos faced by displaced people. “Most of the refugees who are coming from Syria speak Arabic language and [few of them] know English.” Alaa believes that having information in a language they understand is essential to refugees, empowering them to feel more in control of their own future.

At any time of day there are a lot of articles that need to be translated,” says Alaa, “and I have free time to help.” She has translated articles about the refugee crisis from international media outlets, in addition to practical information such as weather reports and directions to key locations.

remote translation platform

TWB’s remote translation platform is a useful tool for her as a translator. “It is easy to work with the RRT because I can do the translations directly [online].” So although Alaa lives far from the European refugees she is helping, she can still support them.  The most satisfying translations, she says, have been the Rumors” responses which TWB translates on behalf of partner Internews. This involves translating objective, informed responses to rumors that aid workers hear during their daily activities on the migration route. Internews publishes and distributes responses in several languages. Correcting misconceptions and providing accurate information for refugees is an important part of reassuring them and reducing the stress that they suffer. Alaa also translates local, European and international media articles into Arabic, giving refugees access to a wider range of news and opinions.

“A lot of refugees panic because they have been displaced so it is very important for them to understand directions to places they need to go for help, the weather forecast and other practical information”

I have to help

Alaa hopes that the translations she contributes can help to reduce that sense of panic by providing practical information in a language familiar to the refugees.

I know that many people are helping refugees, and Translator without Borders gives me the chance to help too. Moreover, I am a Palestinian girl who is familiar with refugee suffering. I believe that… I have to help.”

Currently a sociology student at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, Alaa is trying to improve her language and translation skills so that she can participate in more youth activities promoting peace, human rights and tolerance of difference.

* Some five million Palestinians are registered to receive support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which operates 58 camps in the region.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

The written word can be the difference between hope and despair

Today Zahlé is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. They have fled the violence of civil war, and now they live in refugee camps and squalid accommodation throughout the city. For many refugees, the written word can be the difference between life and death, hope, and despair. They are desperate for information that will help them understand their options for creating a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing vital information

Zahlé is also home to Alain Alameddine, a volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB). As a translator, Alain understands, perhaps more than most people, that the written word can be particularly powerful and beautiful for refugees. As a member of the TWB Rapid Response Team, he works with aid agencies to translate content from English into Arabic on a weekly (and sometimes even daily) basis, to provide vital information to refugees in languages they can understand.

Most Syrian refugees only speak Arabic, and so they are often at a loss as to what to do with the information that is available to them, for the simple reason that it is in a language they do not understand,” he explains.

“A quick translation can make a huge difference”

In addition to Alain’s work as a translator, he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Through his voluntary ministry, he has brought a listening ear and words of comfort to refugees since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. “We’ve noticed first-hand that a listening ear is no less important than food and shelter,” Alain says. He often shares the Old Testament words of Isaiah with refugees he visits, Alain quotes ’we are pained, God is pained’.

One of Alain’s most frequently shared Bible quotes is one written on the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations in New York. It refers to a day when “nation will not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. We can only begin to imagine what those words mean to people who have fled violent conflict and persecution.

Giving new hope

In his work with refugees, Alain sees that words like these give refugees hope that things will change for the better. He has also gained new insights into himself and the world. “I am now more aware of the trials refugees face, the doubts and fears they might have, and the ways they can react to them,” he tells us. “As a translator, I am also now more aware of the importance of talking, writing and translating in a style that is easy to understand rather than using technical or pompous language.”

It seems that in Alain Alameddine, the city of Zahlé has produced yet another man who understands the power and beauty of the written word, and who is willing to use it to help people in need.

Are you a translator? Sign up to volunteer for the Translators without Borders Rapid Response team today.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

How To: Make a Difference from a Distance

Born in Iran, but now a US citizen, Translators without Borders (TWB) volunteer Mehrnaz Kuros has a degree in business administration, and considerable experience working in the corporate sector. She is well aware that many of the refugees she sees on television have similar qualifications and experience to herself. That is why she decided to make a difference from a distance.

Desperate to help

Like many of us, when Mehrnaz saw the first television and print images of refugees bound for Europe, she was shocked and sad. She realized that many of them had been forced into this action by circumstances well beyond their control. “It is unbelievable, how people give up everything and risk their lives, to begin a new life, in a new world.”

It all comes down to politics,” she notes. “For some people, being in power blinds them to the inherent value of people, nature, heritage, and humanity.”

Mehrnaz was determined to help those affected by political turmoil.

“I thought that by cooperating with Translators without Borders, I could play a small part in helping migrants and refugees. I wish the best for them”

Mehrnaz’s daughter sent her a link to a site that talked about the work of TWB to help refugees affected by the crisis in Europe. With considerable experience translating between English and Farsi, Mehrnaz was quick to volunteer her skills and join TWB’s Rapid Response Translation (RRT) team.

Helping from a distance

Several times a week, Mehrnaz connects remotely with TWB team members and volunteers to identify the material that she can translate. She does all of the translation remotely, even while she is traveling.

Being able to communicate in other languages is important to Mehrnaz. She believes that it helps her to relate to people from different nations and to stay informed about news and current affairs. Her language skills enable her, through translation, to help other people to adjust to new conditions, environments, and societies. One of the most satisfying translations Mehrnaz has completed for TWB was a text regarding the EU-Turkey deal, which negotiated in March 2016. While she was aware of the many challenges the deal presented, she saw it as at least a framework for responding. She was happy to be able to communicate it to people who, until then, had operated in an environment of uncertainty, rumor, and chaos.

Clearly affected by what she describes as “the modern exodus,” Mehrnaz remains optimistic about addressing it. “It’s so sad to read the news – and it’s somehow unbelievable – to have had so many disasters in the 21st century. I hope things will move in a better direction and crises can be solved.”

Want to volunteer?

With dedicated volunteers like Mehrnaz working from a distance, there is always hope that things will indeed change for the better. Sign up to be a Rapid Response Volunteer with Translators without Borders now.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer 

“Freedom and safety shouldn’t be taken for granted in our world”

Inspired by the pain and suffering prevailing in many parts of the world, Ali Bai looked for an opportunity to help others. He had the feeling that he should do something – anything – to help the refugees he saw every day on television. However, he also felt that government assistance in emergency situations was too often bureaucratic and political, so he wanted to be part of a non-governmental humanitarian response. As a full-time translator and proofreader, Ali decided that Translators without Borders (TWB) was an obvious way for him to help people in need. So he joined our Rapid Response Team.

Joining the TWB Rapid Response Team

Ali has a BA in English Translation and an MA in General Linguistics, so he puts his training and translation experience to good use in TWB’s Rapid Response Translation Team (RRT). He now has the sense that he is making a timely contribution.

Translators have to work very fast in the RRT, while also maintaining a high level of quality and accuracy,” he explains. “I am lucky to have great co-workers and the environment is really welcoming. We all are dedicated to the purpose and we help each other in translating and editing.”

Ali’s tasks include translating texts from English to his native Farsi. The volunteer work is satisfying for Ali because he knows that every translation can make a positive difference in the lives of other humans. Of course, translating good news that gives promise to refugees is his favorite type of job and always gives him the greatest satisfaction.

putting yourself In their shoes

Like many of TWB’s volunteers, Ali fits his RRT work around his full-time job and other commitments. He often imagines life as a refugee who has lost loved ones in a war, and he thinks about how it must feel to decide to then risk traveling by sea to a safer country. He imagines the devastation that refugees must feel when they finally arrive on a foreign beach, only to realize that the food and shelter they desperately need is not immediately accessible due to language barriers.

I think providing refugees with material in their own languages not only helps them address their immediate challenges, but also makes them feel safe and that someone cares about them,” Ali says. He points out that refugees who have already experienced much pain and suffering are exposed to a kind of “second victimization” when they arrive in Europe. He asks,

“How can they make reasonable decisions without access to a familiar language?”

Ali, an Iranian, points out that his country has hosted millions of Afghan refugees over the past few decades. He is conscious of the positive impact they have had on his country’s economy.

These fellow human beings shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the integrity of European communities,” Ali insists. “I think by accepting and welcoming refugees, Europe can make an economic opportunity out of this crisis, while making life safer for refugees. Furthermore, we should always remember that any one of us might lose our home or family; freedom and safety shouldn’t be taken for granted in our world.”

Want to volunteer?

You can apply to become a part of the TWB Rapid Response team here.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer

12 reasons to celebrate TWB in 2016!

celebrate twb

In 2016 we worked with some wonderful partners to change people’s lives through access to vital information in the right language. We believe that no person should suffer because they cannot access or understand the information that they need.
So lets celebrate TWB with a recap of our year:

January

In JANUARY we were providing translations in six languages to humanitarian aid agencies responding to the European refugee crisis.

Board with translated text
From left to right: Abdelah Lomri, former TWB Arabic Team Leader and Farideh Colthart, TWB volunteer interpreter

FEbruary

In FEBRUARY we worked with the American Red Cross to translate their First Aid and Hazard Universal apps. These apps help enhance individual disaster preparedness and response to emergencies.

march

In MARCH we announced the winners of our third Access to Knowledge Awards, in acknowledgement of their outstanding support.

april

In APRIL we partnered with Global Health Media Project, to bring multilingual health care instruction to practitioners of health through video.

may

In MAY we attended the World Humanitarian Summit where we advocated for the inclusion of language in humanitarian response.

june

In JUNE we made an impact with a new video on how Translators without Borders responds to crisis by working with non-profit partners globally.

july

In JULY we translated the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability into Swahili for partner CHS Alliance.

august

By AUGUST we had trained over 480 interpreters and translators and we had created the world’s first-ever humanitarian interpreter roster.

TWB's team in Greece
From left to right: Abdelah Lomri and Lali Foster, TWB team in Greece

september

In SEPTEMBER we trained 15 Guinean translators so that communities in West Africa can access more health care information in their language.

october

In OCTOBER following Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, we translated cholera prevention messages into Haitian Creole, for affected communities.

november

In NOVEMBER we developed the world’s first crisis-specific machine translation engine for Kurdish languages using content from our Words of Relief response in Greece.

december

In DECEMBER we reached 10 million words translated in one year, something we would not have been able to do without the help of our volunteers and
supporters!

We’ve had some great successes this year but there is still more work to be done! This holiday season, consider a donation to support the work of TWB.

Volunteer for 60 minutes per day, and you too can be a hero

Hanan Ben Nafa wishes she had learned about Translators without Borders years ago. “I’ve always been interested in translation, but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t think twice about it once the opportunity came along.” Now, she spends 60 minutes working for TWB each day.

volunteering 60 minutes per day

As a member of the TWB Rapid Response Translation Team, Hanan now spends around an hour each day translating and editing crisis response content from English to Arabic.

Volunteering with TWB is instantly rewarding for Hanan, she says, knowing that many refugees will be helped by the information that she translates. The most satisfying work, she feels, has been short texts that give detailed instructions to refugees on specific issues such as where to find their registration number or where their full-registration appointments will be held.

Such information is very basic,” Hanan says, “yet it’s crucial and needs to be correct so that the refugees feel that their case is progressing. In such situations, I am sure that our help is going to have an instant impact on someone’s well-being.”

personal gains

Having the opportunity to help others is exciting for Hanan, but she is also enthusiastic about what she gains from it personally. She believes that she has become a better translator and editor, and also feels more aware of the refugee situation.

Before, I honestly did not follow news related to refugees very closely,” she confesses. “The articles we work on are usually not found on mainstream news portals, so I have the chance to read updates about the refugee crisis and what is being done to address it. Now I’m more informed and have more empathy.”

In 2009, Hanan moved from Libya to the United Kingdom, where she is currently completing a PhD in Sociolinguistics. When she first arrived in England, her English language skills were, as she says, “adequate”, but she struggled a lot with the regional accent. Even though now she is fluent in English, Hanan still faltered recently when she was a patient in the Accident and Emergency unit of her local hospital. She realized how stress can affect one’s ability to communicate clearly, and found herself wondering how a patient who does not speak the local language might feel in such a situation.

“Being in hospital made me realise that there is nothing luxurious about providing refugees with information in their first language. They need it to be able to make informed decisions about their lives”

Hanan knows that her occasional frustrations with English are different to the frustration a refugee might feel when they cannot communicate with an asylum officer, for example.

While my frustration was triggered by a need for integration, theirs is triggered by a need for survival,” she says. “I cannot imagine how refugees feel, waiting in front of closed doors and borders with no acknowledgement of their right for a peaceful life. The last thing they should be facing is more distress because of a lack of correct information that could be easily solved with some collaboration and patience.“

Want to volunteer?

Do you want to join Hanan for 60 minutes – or just any minute – translating for TWB? Apply for a position in our volunteer translator community here.

Blog AuthorBy Kate Murphy, Translators without Borders volunteer