“The sense that people are genuinely helped by my translation makes me happy”
For more than 11 years, Bashir Baqi has translated a wide variety of texts between English and his native Farsi — from home appliance operating manuals, technical texts on philosophy, architecture, and psychology, to user interfaces, games, and Wikipedia pages. Bashir is also a freelance proof-reader and loves walking – whether by the ocean or through remote jungles.
A desire to help others
For the last few months, Bashir has donated up to twenty hours each week to the TWB European Refugee Crisis response project. He is driven by a desire to help other humans in the best way he can: giving them information in a language they understand. “The sense that people are genuinely helped by my translations makes me happy, and I wish I could do more,” he said. “Being able to do it as a volunteer, without egotism or obligation, gives me a positive feeling, and I would surely encourage other translators to try it too.”
Bashir holds a Masters of Arts in Translation Studies from Iran’s Birjand University and a diploma in English from the Iran Language Institute. His clients have included the Iranian Ministry of Science, the Iranian police department, and various publishing companies.
“I could see the pain of those who couldn’t communicate”
Omid Xadem, a Farsi-Dari-Tajik Persian linguist and researcher, is a member of the TWB Rapid Response Team in Europe. The current refugee situation is particularly personal for him. Omid traveled across Turkey for two months and kept seeing the same picture: refugee children working in shops, but unable to communicate. “In Konya, a city that is hosting a great number of Syrian refugees, I saw a little girl selling some handkerchiefs and other trinkets. She had nowhere to go, she didn’t seem to belong to anyone and she only spoke Arabic. I could see that she wanted help and to keep her dignity by working. And it really moved me,” relates Omid.
Omid joined TWB when the organization started looking for Farsi speakers for its Words of Relief program. With rich experience in translating and interpreting, Omid is working with the team on voice-over recordings, radio messages, written texts, reviews, and quality assurance. Materials that the team produces have very practical uses: updating refugees on the situation at the borders or about any impending complications, such as ferry strikes, informing them how to register and directing them to the right people – if they need a doctor or have lost their luggage, for example. Omid explains his work very simply: “lots of people on the ground are also volunteers. We are trying to make it easier for them to communicate with the refugees.”
INTERESTED IN VolunteerING
Bashir and Omid have dedicated over 50 hours each of volunteering time to Translators without Borders. If you would like to apply to become a Rapid Response translator, click here.
world humanitarian summit, Istanbul, Turkey 23 – 24 May 2016
Last week I had the good fortune of attending the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the first convening of its kind. Beyond the lovely – and slightly extravagant – opening ceremony, there was real work to be done at the summit. With the mantra, “Leave No One Behind” and the hashtag, #ShareHumanity, the ‘powers that be’ attempted to shift the conversation – and the mindset – within the humanitarian aid community to community engagement and local empowerment. A few significant commitments were made, especially the Grand Bargain target of 25 percent of international funds going to local NGOs by 2020, and initiatives launched, such as the Network for Empowered Aid Response.
Yet session after session, I waited to hear the specific commitments from UN agencies and major NGOs. They were not forthcoming. There were declarations that individual voices matter, that partnerships with local actors are important, and that we just must do something about the migration crisis. These were sound bites, written and spoken without passion. But actual financial or program commitments on a broad scale were sadly lacking.
But does it even matter?
I left feeling relieved that I didn’t fall asleep in the special sessions, but energized by the activities and voices that I heard in other settings throughout the venue. The shift in funding to local and national NGOs and enterprises, coupled with exciting innovations and the involvement of for-profit socially minded companies, will necessarily change the focus to local solutions, with or without the international humanitarian leaders. Whether they survive the shift will be up to them. I was particularly excited by three trends that permeated the summit:
Small enterprises with big ideas.
Throughout the summit’s Innovation Marketplace and wandering the halls, were many entrepreneurs who are figuring out ways to either assist international agencies with the shift to local or simply bypass them; it is a shame that the diplomats and agency directors who walked through the Marketplace to get to the Facebook Live booth did not glance at the cool innovations as they passed. HumanSurge, for example, allows professionals in surge capacity to manage their own careers and their own deployments, opening many more opportunities for employment. The creators of MedBox focus on truly open health content that can be shared by anyone, anywhere, not unlike our local language Words of Relief Repository. Our fellow CDAC-Network member, Ground Truth Solutions, told the special session on People at the Centre that communicating with communities is not just about listening, but acting on what we hear – and listening again.
While the leaders may be slow to commit to change, at the field level the shift is clear. In our advocacy for more local language content, we often hit roadblocks at country or international levels. There is a presumption that translation is not that important, or that bi-lingual staff can do it just fine. But field staff really understand the need and are committed to local language as a tool to communicate better with and listen to communities. Those who came by our booth at the summit were thrilled that this issue is getting more attention. Importantly, more and more, field staff in places like Kenya, Guinea and Greece are forcing changes higher up the chain. There are also promising pockets of change within headquarters staff, such as the exciting work being done by UNHCR Innovation’s Emergency Lab, and the ICRC’s team committed to communicating with communities. While commitments on an international level were sparse, individuals throughout the summit were committing to the paradigm shift, and that mindset will seep through the sector over time.
Sustainable funding models.
Probably the most exciting conversations I had at the World Humanitarian Summit were those with like-minded organizations focused on non-traditional funding models. It is critical that we look beyond grant cycles to fund important initiatives and innovations that improve overall response. Many members of the humanitarian-to-humanitarian (H2H) initiative launched by ACAPS, of which we are a member, are considering service funding models as a way to build infrastructure and hire staff that fit the needs of the organization, not just the latest grant proposal. It was encouraging to get many nods of support for our new service funding approach from a wide range of large non-profits and agencies. While institutional funding will continue to be important for organizations like ours, sustainable long-term funding modeled after tech start-ups (and encouraged by such innovative funders as the Humanitarian Innovation Fund), will increase innovations designed specifically to meet humanitarian needs, encourage competition to sort out the best ideas, and allow professionalization of small enterprises and non-profit organizations on the local, national and international level.
A momentum for change
Over three years of consultations leading up to the summit, there were many questions as to whether any of it would matter, whether the UN and the sector could actually change to improve humanitarian response. But as those questions were being asked, change was happening all around us. There is momentum for change on local and even international levels. How it will shake out, and who will be the major players in ten years, is unknown, but I’m optimistic that response will be improved, with or without today’s leaders.
Read more about the World Humanitarian Summit here.
By Rebecca Petras, Translators without Borders Deputy Director and Head of Innovation
Leave no one behind and localization are big picture ideas that are being widely-discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit next week in Istanbul.
But, what does it really mean to leave no one – not one single person – behind?
As the head of an organization that began and remains firmly based in the localization industry, I’d like to add my voice to the conversation –it’s a conversation vital to everything we do as humanitarians.
I’ve been thinking about what humanitarians can learn from the corporate sector in terms of localization. When I say “humanitarians”, I mean local, national, international NGOs, UN agencies, etc.
Why do companies localize? What do they know that we (humanitarians) don’t? The localization industry is expected to be worth $37 billion by 2018. Obviously, localization matters to corporations.
Here is what they know:
People remember and respond better to what they learn in their native language.
According to Robert Lane Greene of The Economist, research demonstrates that when people read something in a language they understand, they can comprehend it. If they read something in their mother tongue, they are more apt to believe it to be true.
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Simple messages in native languages work. Content can’t be translated well if it doesn’t make sense in the original language.
Go to the customer. Go to the places where people get information. Localize what you find and create what is missing.
Provide people with knowledge and information, not instructions. Let people decide how to use the knowledge.
Ensure efficient processes. Use technology to speed up (but not substitute for) localization.
We humanitarians know this. But why do companies localize, but we in the humanitarian world don’t?
Same, same, but different
In the corporate translation/content world, localization is about how to make information accessible to customers. For humanitarians, localization is about putting affected people at the center of the humanitarian response.
Maybe it’s the same thing? Doesn’t “leaving no one behind” mean making our “products” accessible to people affected by crises, our customers? Doesn’t putting people at the center of the response mean that they decide which products best suit their needs?
Why are we behind in our participation?
We’ve all heard the excuses:
Translation is too expensive; we don’t have the budgets companies have.
Translation takes too long and people will die.
We don’t have translators on staff, and those we do have focus on the languages that our donors speak, not those languages that affected people speak.
Just give them cash and let them work out what they need. People can make their own decisions.
Let’s address these.
Translation is too expensive
It IS expensive to translate a lot of content. Fortunately, we already have the lessons that the private sector has learned and the tools they’ve developed. We need to:
Decide what is crucial information (not huge tomes)
Ensure that the content is good (for example, not UN or NGO-speak)
Find qualified professional translators (bad translations can kill)
Use translation tools wisely
Make the process efficient
These things cut costs and force us to prioritize.
Translation takes too long and people will die.
Or they will die because they don’t get the right information at the right time in the right way? In my four months at TWB, I’ve discovered that this is really not as hard as we think. TWB currently releases information in Arabic, Farsi, and Greek in less than five hours. And with the social media penetration rates of many of the places we work, we provide the best information to people using high-quality translations, subtitles, or voice overs before most humanitarians can score their visas, flights, hotels and advances.
Localization works even better if there are trained community translators already in the country of need. In-country resources are low-cost and easily developed for all humanitarian and development workers.
As an aid community, we need to think differently. Think about how much you can do virtually, without getting on a plane. For example, TWB has no corporate HQ – our only office is a translation center in Nairobi. All of our staff and our 3,400 translators work remotely.
Just give them the cash.
I agree. Give them the cash. And ensure that those in need have access to
high-quality information that they understand so they know what’s available to best protect themselves and their families.
Localization is as much about improving the quality of assistance as it is about ensuring people can protect themselves and live with dignity. As an aid community, we can only meet our own rigorous standards if people get the information they need in a language they speak and in a format they can access.
With all the other commitments, let’s make sure we really do leave no one behind.
Still not convinced?
Translators without Borders has done a series of very simple comprehension studies. This will make you think:
197 people were asked questions about how Ebola is spread.
8% of the questions were answered correctly
About 100 of these people attended an English information session; the other 100 got the same information in a professionally-translated Swahili session
Both groups were given the same test at the end of the sessions
The group that received information in English got 16% of the questions correct
The ground that received info in Swahili got…
….Wait for it…
92% of the questions correct.
If we’re really serious about ‘leaving no one behind’, then every humanitarian organization should invest in ensuring that key information is already translated into languages where we know disasters will occur (or are occurring) by:
Train community translators and interpreters to listen and respond, alongside community groups.
Ask for translation support. There are tools to rapidly develop local translator networks or global virtual translation/interpreting teams.
Pre-translate questionnaires and make them available in various media. You can sub-title or dub videos or radio programs fairly easily into numerous languages and have them ready for deployment.
Make sure source content is simplified in advance. I shudder to think that we might have to ask translators to translate the CHS graphic. Simple language can be easily translated into languages that are not vocabulary-rich, without compromising the meaning.
It’s not difficult. It’s not expensive. It will improve our accountability. It will save lives.
Come visit TWB in the Innovation Marketplace at the WHS. We will be at booth #2.
Contributors: Val Swisher, Founder & CEO of Content Rules and Donna Parrish, Owner/President of MultiLingual Computing, Inc., publisher of the language industry magazine “MultiLingual” and Co-owner and President of Localization World, Ltd., inputted significantly to this piece. They are TWB Board Members.
By Aimee Ansari, Translators without Borders Executive Director
Translators without Borders responds to communications and language needs in humanitarian and development settings. This means providing vital information to people in need, in a language they can understand. We work with many talented, dedicated volunteer translators who help us to achieve our mission. This post presents one volunteer translator story out of many.
A volunteer translator story: Andrea Alvisi, one of our volunteers who has translated almost 15,000 words for non-profit organizations.
Q: What inspired you to volunteer for TWB?
A: When I approached TWB, I had already been selected by Amnesty International Italy as one of their official translators. I firmly believe that skilled linguists should devote part of their time to a good cause – I see volunteering my translation and interpreting services to charities and NGOs who cannot afford to do this at a fee as an integral part of my professional and personal development. TWB is probably one of the biggest names out there and it counts on thousands of translators all over the world in a wide variety of languages, which I find fascinating.
Q: How long have you been volunteering?
A: I joined the team a couple of years ago. So far I have translated over 14,000 words.
Q: How much time do you spend on doing translations for Translators without Borders?
A: I have a very busy life (don’t we all say that?), so unfortunately I cannot commit to very large jobs. However, I find I can easily fit their projects in my schedule and I usually sit down in the evening or at weekends to complete them. It would be very difficult for me to quantify the exact amount of time spent on each project, but I have to say the very generous deadlines don’t make it feel like a burden at all.
Q: Which language(s) do you translate from / into?
A: I translate from English into Italian.
Q: What types of texts have you translated?
A: When I started volunteering for TWB, I soon realised the majority of their assignments involve some technical jargon. Over the years, I have found myself translating reports of various technical natures pertaining to crisis management and corporate measures. For example, one assignment was to translate a letter to be sent out to various stakeholders for a high-profile football charity. I can honestly say every assignment is different and challenging in its own way.
Q: Have you learnt anything while translating for TWB?
A: Yes, a great deal. Most of the material I have tackled so far relates to the operations of the Red Cross and I have used the background information I gained through volunteering for TWB to apply for a volunteering interpreting position with the Red Cross itself. Volunteering as a translator for TWB also helps to keep your eyes peeled and see things through a different perspective. One of my assignments, for instance, made me think very hard about the difficulties faced by disabled football fans when they wish to take part in a match due the lack of suitable infrastructure in stadia. The world is your oyster, as they say, and it’s out there for you to discover. I feel TWB helps you to do so.
Do you want to join the TWB and create your own volunteer translator story? Sign up at the TWB website.
By Kate Murphy, translators without Borders volunteer
Since November 2015, as part of our response to the European refugee crisis, Translators without Borders has translated over 100,000 words of critical information into main refugee languages. We have reached tens of thousands of refugees on their journey from the Greek islands and along the ‘Balkan route’ and we have engaged over 100 professionals and volunteer translators for our Words of Relief European refugee response program.
Meet Translators without Borders at the following upcoming events: