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.

TWB intern is recognized as a Young African Leader

Cédrick Young African Leader YALI
Cédrick Irakoze

At Translators without Borders (TWB), we are lucky to have extraordinary team members who are recognized worldwide. We are always grateful to have uniquely skilled members of the international community choose to be part of our cause. Today, we are proud to share the story of Cédrick Irakoze, Crisis Response and Community and Recruitment Intern for TWB. He was recently awarded a place to be part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) network. The YALI network invests in the next generation of African leaders, providing invaluable opportunities to connect and learn from experts. Learn more about the YALI network here.

Cédrick is a young Burundian language professional. He holds a bachelor’s degree in TESOL  (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from the University of Burundi, and has years of experience as a professional translator. He believes that language can improve or even save lives in this global world. And interaction in the right language can be vital for everyone, no matter people’s language, culture, or the color of their skin.

“TWB is my professional home” – Cédrick

In 2018, Cédrick first featured in our blog as a volunteer translator from English and French into Rundi. This was his introduction to the world of language in humanitarian work: “When I joined TWB as an intern, I joined a community of like-minded individuals serving the global community. Now I call TWB my professional home.” Day-to-day, Cédrick engages and collaborates with our translator community to help create a world with no language barriers. 

But in late 2019, he did something different. He successfully applied for the Young African Leaders Initiative program.

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI)

In 2016, Cédrick joined the Young African Leaders Initiative network with over 25,000 other young and talented individuals. In 2019, he met with 108 successful candidates from over 7000 applicants to attend a one-month leadership training course.

A group of YALI network members in Nairobi.
A group of YALI network members in Nairobi.

 

Energetic public officials, business owners, and local and international nonprofit leaders from all over Africa came together in Nairobi, Kenya. On hearing their stories, Cédrick reflected, “The way they are each committed to making their communities better inspired me.” The Translators without Borders team is delighted to have witnessed a team member take on such an exciting, formative challenge.

“Thank you very much. TWB showed me so much love and support before and during the program!” – Cédrick

Cédrick Irakoze, right, with TWB Kenya Manager Paul Warambo, left.
Cédrick Irakoze, right, with TWB Kenya Manager Paul Warambo, left.

It’s all about communication

The course was about inspiring and equipping one another to become better leaders. Participants developed their communication skills and built solutions-oriented networks. These factors are central to the changes these young leaders want to see in society. Each member of the diverse group – native speakers of over fifty languages – played a vital part.

Cédrick Irakoze, left presenting to the YALI network members.

This richness and diversity are reflected in TWB’s own community of translators and supporters, and in our way of working. We too rely on the power of teamwork to make change — to improve communications and access to information worldwide. Cédrick’s big takeaway is that when we come together we can innovate, we can flourish and we can make each other feel valued. 

“Diversity is richness in professional life” – Cédrick 

With the skills he’s learned through this course, Cédrick hopes to make a positive impact in his professional and social circles. “I can’t wait to contribute more and better to our common mission: to create a world that knows no language barriers.” 

Cédrick Irakoze and friends at the YALI network meetup in Nairobi.
Cédrick Irakoze and friends at the YALI network meetup in Nairobi.

 

Start your own journey as part of the TWB community.

 

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Cédrick Irakoze, Crisis Response and Community and Recruitment Intern for Translators without Borders.

United by language: Tigrinya translators use their skills to help others

Translators improve lives by translating potentially lifesaving information into often ‘marginalized’ languages spoken by vulnerable individuals. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders (TWB) have a range of experiences and skills, and share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. We are grateful for all our translators, and we love sharing their stories.

Two of our top translators of Tigrinya, a language spoken by approximately seven million people, deserve special recognition for the work they did in 2018. Our featured translators, Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, have their roots in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively. But they are united by a common language and their tireless desire to use their skills to support those in need.

Tigrinya is a Semitic language, belonging to the same language family as Amharic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Maltese. It is widely spoken in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia, and by immigrant communities in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and parts of Europe.

Eritrea Landscape, Ghinda
Ghinda, Eritrea.

Missing Children Europe  

Tigrinya was one of the most important marginalized languages at TWB in 2018, primarily because of our partners’ work with refugees. For example, Missing Children Europe works with refugee youth in Europe who are unaccompanied; Tigrinya is one of the most important languages for this work. Kalayu and Kidane both contributed to the Missing Children Europe work, giving hope to people who have been forced from home due to poverty, hunger, persecution, discrimination, civil war, or unemployment. Young people and displaced or unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable in such situations. They need to be able to report problems and to know their rights and responsibilities. They cannot do any of that without information in a language they understand.

Kalayu knows how important it is to ensure communication does not become a barrier to humanitarians providing safety. Language mediators are crucial. So the documents provided by our Tigrinya translators can be life-changing.

Kidane, too, sees it as a privilege to work with an organization like Missing Children Europe: to know he is supporting young children, and that the work he does is valuable.

A translator’s journey: taking refuge and delivering safety with words

Kidane now works from his home office in Buffalo, New York translating from English to Tigrinya. The dedicated volunteer prides himself on communication and a desire to help others, hence his enthusiasm for working with TWB. Since joining in April 2018, Kidane has completed 60 tasks, amounting to 32,000 words.

“At one time in my life, I was a refugee. So, I understand what it is like to be in an unfamiliar country, facing a language barrier and other challenges. When I work with people in that situation, I understand what they are going through and it makes me happy to help them,” Kidane Haile, Translator

In 2010, Kidane arrived in the United States with refugee status. For four years he worked part-time, studied full-time, and worked on his English fluency. It was then that he realized his knowledge of Tigrinya and English opened up an opportunity to work and help the community simultaneously. Now he works as a full-time interpreter, though he never forgets where his journey began:

“I often think about making life easier for people who start in a new country and need help communicating and understanding their new situation, the way I was years ago.”

Kalayu, the second of our spotlighted Tigrinya translators, works in the same language pair from his home in Ethiopia. This busy volunteer has translated almost 30,000 words across 17 tasks since he joined TWB in October 2018. He continually aims to serve and provide for others through improved communications.

Kalayu
Kalayu Menasbo, Translator

And his dedication to the mission is evident: Kalayu often works late into the night to complete translation tasks, without the convenience of a home laptop.

In fact, the keen reader and ex-radio journalist wears many charitable hats: he also works for World Vision Ethiopia, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable children and families. In his various roles, he creates safe, protected environments by translating vital information into local languages.

Beyond TWB

Kidane’s experience with TWB has expanded his written translation skills and helped him to take on work outside of his primary field of interpretation.

Kalayu explains how working with TWB helped him understand the impact a translation can make:

“I have no money to support people, but I have the skill of translation – a skill that can support those who need it in their daily life.” This revelation has made Kalayu a committed language professional.

Photo by Kalayu. Sunset over the Adwa mountains, Ethiopia.

A translation task may take you a day, but for those who need it, it may serve as a life continuing catalyst,” Kalayu Menasbo.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, please join the discussion or email [email protected].

If you know a second language, and you too want to help build a world where knowledge knows no language barriers, apply here to become a translator for TWB

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for TWB, with interview responses by Kidane Haile and Kalayu Menasbo, Kató translators for TWB. 

Prison Yoga and Moving Smiles – it all matters to a TWB translator

“You are always learning from your colleagues and sometimes you are asked for advice too.” Patricia Cassoni, translator for Translators without Borders (TWB).  

Patricia CassoniTranslators improve the lives of countless individuals, allowing them to access information and knowledge in their own language. Those who volunteer for Translators without Borders share a vision of a world where knowledge knows no language barriers.

TWB’s virtual community of translators possesses a range of experiences. Kató, the translation platform used by TWB, gives volunteers the opportunity to develop their skills and professional networks while working on impactful projects for nonprofit organizations. Those organizations trust us to provide accurate translations, often in short timeframes. We are grateful for all of our volunteers, and we love sharing their stories.  

Part of the community

Today, the spotlight falls on Patricia Cassoni, one of our most active Kató translators, who has been volunteering with us since 2012. Working from Portuguese to Spanish and English to Spanish, she has completed nearly 300 tasks, amounting to over 360,000 words. Patricia is excited to be part of the community of translators. “I like to meet people through the platform,” she told us, “because, more or less, we have the same intentions and interests of living in a better and fairer world.

Prison Yoga Project

Patricia’s varied and meaningful work has aided the efforts of organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), International Organization for Migration, and Operation Smile. With Operation Smile, Patricia has translated potentially lifesaving information for professionals, families, and children around the world. This helps ensure that those born with cleft conditions receive the level of care that Operation Smile aims to provide, no matter what language they speak.

Patricia’s work has helped to improve hundreds if not thousands of lives. She feels that translating allows her to develop her motivation for helping people.

“It keeps me in permanent contact with the real world,” she says. “As a translator, it is very rewarding to use my knowledge to help those who need it.”

Prison yoga project

Patricia has worked on projects you might never have imagined, using her translation skills to shape lives in every sense of the word. One project that is particularly dear to her is a book translation for the Prison Yoga Project, an organization that works to bring yoga and mindfulness to American prisons. The nonprofit organization trains yoga instructors, produces instructional materials, and teaches classes in detention and rehabilitation centers. It also provides support programs for released inmates, with the ultimate goal of reducing their likelihood of reoffending.

Prison Yoga ProjectPrison Yoga Project

Within TWB’s community of Kató translators, Patricia is both mentor and student, sharing her knowledge and skills with colleagues, and also benefiting from their experiences too. 

“Belonging to TWB’s community of Kató translators is very interesting,” she recounts. “Once, a judicial translator from California contacted me and asked my opinion about her work. It was funny because I had been a judicial translator for fifteen years and this girl did not know it.” Patricia is an excellent example of how participating in the TWB’s community can not only benefit volunteer translators but how it can also make the world feel like a smaller, less divided place.

To get in touch about any of the topics mentioned in this post, and to leave feedback please join the discussion here, or send an email to [email protected].

To join TWB’s community of Kató translators, please apply here.

 

Photos by Robert Sturman, robertsturmanstudio.com, for the Prison Yoga Project. 

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Patricia Cassoni, Kató translator for TWB.