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.

Transfer Learning Approaches for Machine Translation

This article was originally posted in the TWB Tech Blog on medium.com

TWB’s current research focuses on bringing language technology to marginalized communities

Translators without Borders (TWB) aims to empower people through access to critical information and two-way communication in their own language. We believe language technology such as machine translation systems are essential to achieving this. This is a challenging task given many of the languages we work with have little to no language data available to build such systems.

In this post, I’ll explain some methods for dealing with low-resource languages. I’ll also report on our experiments in obtaining a Tigrinya-English neural machine translation (NMT) model.

The progress in machine translation (MT) has reached many remarkable milestones over the last few years, and it is likely that it will progress further. However, the development of MT technology has mainly benefited a small number of languages.

Building an MT system relies on the availability of parallel data. The more present a language is digitally, the higher the probability of collecting large parallel corpora which are needed to train these types of systems. However, most languages do not have the amount of written resources that English, German, French and a few other languages spoken in highly developed countries have. The lack of written resources in other languages drastically increases the difficulty of bringing MT services to speakers of these languages.

Low-resource MT scenario

Figure 2, modified from Koehn and Knowles (2017), shows the relationship between the BLEU score and the corpus size for the three MT approaches.

A classic phrase-based MT model outperforms NMT for smaller training set sizes. Only after a corpus size threshold of 15M words, roughly equivalent to 1 million sentence pairs, classic NMT shows its superiority.

Low-resource MT, on the other hand, deals with corpus sizes that are around a couple of thousand sentences. Although this figure shows at first glance that there is no way to obtain anything useful for low resource languages, there are ways to leverage even small data sets. One of these is a deep learning technique called transfer learning, which makes use of the knowledge gained while solving one problem to apply it to a different but related problem.

Cross-lingual transfer learning

Figure 3 illustrates their idea of cross-lingual transfer learning.

The researchers first trained an NMT model on a large parallel corpus — French–English — to create what they call the parent model. In a second stage, they continued to train this model, but fed it with a considerably smaller parallel corpus of a low-resource language. The resulting child model inherits the knowledge from the parent model by reusing its parameters. Compared to a classic approach of training only on the low-resource language, they record an average improvement of 5.6% BLEU over the four languages they experiment with. They further show that the child model doesn’t only reuse knowledge of the structure of the high resource target language but also on the process of translation itself.

The high-resource language to choose as the parent source language is a key parameter in this approach. This decision is usually made in a heuristic way judging by the closeness to the target language in terms of distance in the language family tree or shared linguistic properties. A more sound exploration of which language is best to go for a given language is made in Lin et al. (2019).

Multilingual training

What results from the example is one single model that translates from the four languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian) to English.

Multilingual NMT offers three main advantages. Firstly, it reduces the number of individual training processes needed to one, yet the resulting model can translate many languages at once. Secondly, transfer learning makes it possible for all languages to benefit from each other through the transfer of knowledge. And finally, the model serves as a more solid starting point for a possible low-resource language.

For instance, if we were interested in training MT for Galician, a low-resource romance language, the model illustrated in Figure 4 would be a perfect fit as it already knows how to translate well in four other high-resource romance languages.

A solid report on the use of multilingual models is given by Neubig and Hu (2018). They use a “massively multilingual” corpus of 58 languages to leverage MT for four low-resource languages: Azeri, Belarusian, Galician, and Slovakian. With a parallel corpus size of only 4500 sentences for Galician, they achieved a BLEU score of up to 29.1% in contrast to 22.3% and 16.2% obtained with a classic single-language training with statistical machine translation (SMT) and NMT respectively.

Transfer learning also enables what is called a zero-shot translation, when no training data is available for the language of interest. For Galician, the authors report a BLEU score of 15.5% on their test set without the model seeing any Galician sentences before.

Case of Tigrinya NMT

Tigrinya is no longer in the very low-resource category thanks to the recently released JW300 dataset by Agic and Vulic. Nevertheless, we wanted to see if a higher resource language could help build a Tigrinya-to-English machine translation model. We used Amharic as a parent language, which is written with the same Ge’ez script as Tigrinya and has larger public data available.

The datasets that were available to us at the time of writing this post are listed below. After JW300 dataset, the largest resource to be found is Parallel Corpora for Ethiopian Languages.

Our transfer-learning-based training process consists of four phases. First, we train on a dataset that is a random mix of all sets totaling up to 1.45 million sentences. Second, we fine-tune the model on Tigrinya using only the Tigrinya portion of the mix. In a third phase, we fine-tune on the training partition of our in-house data. Finally, 200 samples earlier allocated aside from this corpus are used for testing purposes.

As a baseline, we skip the first multilingual training step and use only Tigrinya data to train on.

We see a slight increase in the accuracy of the model on our in-house test set when we use the transfer learning approach. The results in various automatic evaluation metrics are as follows:

Conclusion

Written by Alp öktem, Computational Linguist for Translators without Borders

Responding to a tsunami with mother language translation

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 experience 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.

On 22 December 2018, a tsunami struck the Banten Province in Western Java, Indonesia. It devastated buildings and homes along the coasts of Java and Sumatra. It caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. The international response offered monetary aid and supplies for the Indonesian community. Meanwhile, TWB’s translators volunteered to ensure that those in need got vital information in a language they understood.

Lesser Sundra Islands, Indonesia.
Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia.

Rapid Response

This is the story of how one translator’s dedication, skill, and speed made a difference. Indras Wulandar has worked as a professional translator for many years. She translates from English into Indonesian (her mother tongue) and Javanese. In the last four years, she has translated over 25,000 words for TWB. She also facilitated the translation of many more as a quality reviewer.

During the tragedy, Indras’ contribution was outstanding in reviewing Indonesian translators’ tests. This allowed TWB to recruit the Indonesian translators required to respond to language support needs during the crisis.

Indras and the rest of TWB’s community of Indonesian linguists responded to our call. We needed to translate vital documents to support people affected by the tsunami in Western Java. Indras had already helped with crisis projects, like the response to the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi, a few months earlier. For those who speak Indonesian as their mother language, this was a significant project. It provided health and safety information in a language shared by people caught in the natural disaster.

“The experience showed that even the tiniest act of kindness and help can really matter.” Indras Wulandar, Translator.

Humanity Road

During the crisis, TWB worked with Humanity Road, a non-profit specializing in disaster response. There was a need for life-saving warnings and emergency advice in local languages. While the common language is Indonesian, the most widely spoken in the area are Javanese and Sundanese. In some humanitarian responses such as this, there is little information on the languages spoken by crisis-affected people.

Our translators provided that information in the necessary languages. TWB also created a map of languages spoken in the area affected by the tsunami. Maps like these give information on the languages spoken, literacy, and best means for communication. Humanitarians can use this information freely to plan and refine their communication with affected people. See more TWB maps here.

Indonesia Tsunami – Crisis Language Map
Indonesia Tsunami – a map of language needs following the December 2018 tsunami.

Reaching out to others

As a strong believer in life-long learning and self-improvement, Indras is a keen translation reviewer. Reviewers ensure we provide high-quality translations to non-profits over the world. In situations like this, it is vital that people get the information they need in a timely manner, and in a language they understand. Her quick review work made that happen. Indras understands the magnitude of her work as a reviewer. “Reviewing tests is particularly challenging for me, because it means, more or less, that I take part in shaping the quality of the work.”

“Never stop learning and improving yourself. Like the old saying goes, ‘the more you know, the more you don’t know.’”

For Indras, being able to live off of her passion, translation, makes her feel privileged. She loves her work, and she likes to volunteer her skills to give back to society. She describes knowing that she can be useful as “therapeutic.”

“It’s good to know that I can expand my own knowledge while helping to connect these non-profit communities with people who need their service.” – Indras Wulandar

Devastation after a tsunami, Indonesia.

“I signed up to TWB because it is a platform that I can trust. With its global and broad outreach, I hope to help those in need. Including minority groups and those who live in remote places.” Indras Wulandar.

Click here to join TWB’s community of translators.

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

Written by Danielle Moore, Communications Officer for Translators without Borders. Interview responses by Indras Wulandar, Translator for Translators without Borders.

Using language to support humanitarians

Humanitarian emergencies know no language boundaries.

In the 13 countries currently experiencing the most severe crises, people speak over 1,200 languages. Yet, humanitarians operating in these crises often do not have the necessary language support, making their jobs even more difficult. 

World Humanitarian Day on 19 August is an opportune moment to reflect on this challenge. On this day, we honor all aid workers risking their lives to help people facing disasters and conflicts. At Translators without Borders (TWB), we believe that language should not stand in the way of the ability of these dedicated and brave people to deliver life-saving support.

Yet, too often, aid agencies do not give their staff the appropriate resources and tools to engage with communities and local responders in a language they understand. Translation is a consistent challenge, but mostly overlooked in humanitarian budgets amid other more tangible items. As a result, humanitarian workers are often forced to rely on unsupported national colleagues, untrained interpreters, English-centric jargon, and procedures that may exclude those who speak local languages.

The consequences of overlooking the need for language support are dire for the people in need of humanitarian aid – and pretty tough for humanitarian workers themselves.

Many of these aid workers are forced to rely on national staff or local community members to act as translators or interpreters. These staff members are largely expected to deal with the many challenges that differences in languages present on their own, although translation skills are rarely what they are recruited for. Program documentation such as guidelines, manuals, and other materials including specialized terminology is translated without training or support. Some may be working between two languages when neither is their first language.

Situations where interviews with community members pass through three or four languages are not uncommon. An international aid worker may speak in English, a national staff member interprets into the national language, and then a local school teacher interprets into the language of that village, and back again. This approach multiplies the potential loss of information in translation and lacks proper quality assurance. It also forces under-supported humanitarian staff or community members to perform a stressful task with little or no confidence that people’s information and communication needs are being met.

Mustapha (left), TWB - Hausa Team Lead, works with enumerators from the Danish Demining Group / Danish Refugee Council to conduct research on comprehension of information in various languages and formats at Farm Centre IDP Camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
On World Humanitarian Day, we honor all humanitarian aid workers, including our staff, and commit to ensuring language does not stand in the way of their ability to support and empower those who need it most. Here, Mustapha (left), TWB Hausa Team Leader, conducts language comprehension research in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

The fact that complex humanitarian terms and concepts in English are not directly translatable into other languages compounds the problem for humanitarians. TWB’s research in different contexts has found that even aid workers do not always understand the English concepts they are asked to interpret. For example, “violence against women” was translated into Rohingya as “violent women” and “food security” in northeast Nigeria as “food protected by guards”. Comprehension rates among humanitarian data collectors are as low as 35 percent in some places. The result may be, at best, confusion or misunderstanding, and, at worst, inaccurate data upon which response plans are built. It is also undoubtedly stressful for those trying to do their best in challenging circumstances.

A lack of language support can also undermine coordination with and involvement of local responders. When meetings are held in a national or international language, for example, local language speakers are excluded from decision-making. This is not only a matter of dignity and mutual respect, but it is also a crucial precondition for tapping into local knowledge and capacities, allowing those on the frontline of a response to avoid delays in making potentially life-affecting decisions.

In short, humanitarian aid workers are better equipped to ensure people affected by crisis receive timely and relevant aid when they have proper language support.

This support begins with collecting the data needed to plan for language needs, and resourcing those needs appropriately. Training and capacity development programs can help build translation and interpreting capacity in languages for which there are no professional translators. A library of resource materials and tools in the relevant languages can be built up for all aid providers to make use of.

As we mark World Humanitarian Day on August 19, it is time to shift our attention to how we can use language services to support humanitarian workers trying to help in the most dire of circumstances. Addressing language barriers between humanitarians and crisis-affected communities can deliver the humanitarian world’s commitment to quality and accountability across responses, helping support and empower those who need it most.  

Read more about TWB’s response in northeast Nigeria.

Join us as a partner to benefit from our translator community, or sponsor us and enable TWB to provide humanitarian workers with the language support they need.

Written by Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer for Translators without Borders.

Photographs by Eric DeLuca, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager for Translators without Borders.

A translation worth a million words  

translator
Suzanne Assénat

In 2017, this team of four translators donated over 1.2 million words to the work of Translators without Borders (TWB).

In recognition of their invaluable contribution in mentoring new French translators, the French translation team (Barbara Pissane, Suzanne Assénat, Gladis Audi and Ode Laforge) won the 2018 Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Award for Empowerment. Their work has allowed TWB to significantly increase language capacity and guarantee translation quality in one of the organization’s most requested language pairs (French to English). You would be hard-pressed to find a group of more deserving and yet modest individuals with such impressive achievements to their names. Having put into words countless life-changing messages, and contributed to the stories of thousands of people in crisis and need, it is inevitable that these women have some tales of their own to tell.

They are Empowerment Award-winning translators, but they are also so much more.

The team is made up of four witty volunteers, translators-interpreters, writers and mothers, each with their own quirks and attributes. Gladis describes herself as a hunger-relief activist and amateur rosarian who likes to explore nuances and innovate solutions; Ode is a teacher and communicator at heart; Barbara has a fondness for early music and tall ships events; Suzanne appreciates her family time and has a keen interest in the music of words and music itself.

translator Gladis
Gladis Audi

 With so many roles, it is a wonder these women smashed the one-million-word mark, but their motivations have been clear from the start.

All four translators acknowledge that their work with TWB allows them to contribute to social change and global awareness. For Gladis, “Spreading knowledge by breaking language barriers is very significant in itself.” Their motivations stem from a desire to feel “closer to people in distress, people living in countries shattered by wars, poverty, climate disasters or disease outbreaks,” says Ode. This work is her way to “express solidarity with them.”

The team tells the most moving anecdotes.

When asked to recount a significant project with TWB, Suzanne proudly remembered a time in which she mentored translation students in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was impressed by the students’ efforts. They did their work with “little computing hardware, connectivity problems, [while living with the threat of] armed conflict,” but they “kept at it and delivered pretty good translations.”

 translator Ode
Ode Laforge

Ode has a favorite memory that is close to her heart. “How could I ever forget this little book I translated for children in Africa, in which the main character, a little girl living with HIV, was talking about her everyday life?” Ode asks, as she reflects on the human connection that volunteering can foster. “She managed to lead a relatively happy life, taking the drugs she needed, eating healthy food prepared by her loving grandma, avoiding everything that could negatively interfere with her health, fighting difficult moments to stay healthy, playing with other children, and expressing her wish to become a scientist when she grew up, to find a cure for this terrible disease. Despite the seriousness of the topic, this little story was heartwarming and optimistic, but I was deeply moved while translating it.”

Not only has their support left a mark on the lives of thousands, but volunteering for TWB has made a difference to them, too.

This volunteer experience provided the backdrop for a new friendship, which began on the translation platform, between Ode and another TWB volunteer translator, Nadia Gabriel. She describes how they built a friendship “exchanging views on how to best render a tricky sentence or a difficult passage.” Since then, they have met in person and have kept in touch ever since. Ode is so grateful that her work with TWB has given her the opportunity to get to know such lovely friends. 

Finally, these productive translators shared some words of advice.

Gladis advocates balance and encourages aspiring volunteer translators to “work extra hard, have lots of fun, believe in yourself and in the team. A little can go a long way.”

Barbara Pissane translator
Barbara Pissane

For Barbara, it is all about the work ethic of keeping going and finding your work gratifying, You will be proud of the help you give to people and you will grow more confident. Moreover, you will have the opportunity to work with people who are always extremely committed!”

Suzanne recognizes the difficulty of finding the balance when translating as a volunteer and doing it for a living. Her advice is never to feel guilty for not doing enough, and never stay away indefinitely. “Come again, however (in)frequently you can! There’s an analogy to make with blood donations: You don’t and can’t do that very often, but every little drop (well, pouch, whatever) helps make a difference.”

Would you like to share in these life-changing experiences as a TWB volunteer translator? Apply now to get translating.

Written by Danielle Moore, Digital Communications Intern for TWB, with interview responses by Gladis Audi, Ode Laforge, Barbara Pissane and Suzanne Assénat, TWB Volunteer Translators

The Silver Lining – Education brings hope during a refugee crisis

There is a lot of despair and pain radiating from the refugee camps in and around the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Physical pain from disease and injury, coupled with a lack of food, are constant issues for the Rohingya refugees in the camps. The mental anguish is much greater. Loss of family to violence, loss of homes and crops, and an ongoing feeling of degradation and violation of rights – this anguish lives with every refugee, every day.

And yet, while walking through camps, meeting with responders and activists throughout Cox’s Bazar, there was also a thin yet constant thread of hope. Would it be possible, now that the refugees are relatively safe, in camps run by Bangladesh and the international community, to truly educate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children, giving them a future they could not have previously imagined?

Educating an illiterate population

The new influx of more than 600,000 refugees to Bangladesh includes a large number of school-age children. According to Save the Children over 60 percent of the new refugees are children. These numbers could increase as even more refugees are expected to cross the border by the end of the year. UNICEF estimates that more than 450,000 Rohingya children aged 4-18 years old are in need of education services. That includes those who have been in the camps for longer periods [source: Reliefweb].

Evidence indicates that a very large number of the children, as well as the adults, are illiterate. In fact, in a rapid survey conducted by the TWB team in October with Rohingya refugees, 73 percent of respondents self-reported to be illiterate. This illiteracy is limiting the children’s ability to be further educated and to demand their human rights.

Evidence also indicates that when education is made available, literacy rates increase. In fact, in the study TWB completed last month, it was clear that refugees who have been in Bangladesh longer show higher levels of literacy than those who had more recently-arrived.  While not easy to obtain, education is more readily available in the established camps than it was in Myanmar where twin restrictions against movement between villages and education above primary level severely limited access to education. When our team tested populations who have been in Cox’s Bazar since prior to August 2017, comprehension rates improved across the board.

Now, with hundreds of thousands of children together in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, is this an opportunity to offer them education and a future?

Unfortunately, though, the language of instruction will be unfamiliar to the Rohingya children. Currently, a number of organizations are looking to set up learning centers in the camps. The goal is to give the refugee children at least two hours of education a day, beginning in January. Yet the official curriculum that the government of Bangladesh has approved does not include mother tongue education, and the teachers who are being hired will teach in Bangla and Burmese, two languages that the children do not read or speak.

Why mother tongue education matters

A wealth of experience and evidence over the last 50 years has proven that children learn better when they are taught in their mother tongue language. We also know that countries do better when their children are educated well. Evidence from a project that Save the Children has implemented in Thailand focusing on mother tongue education for Rohingya children, shows that learning a second language, English or Thai, is difficult when children do not understand the language of instruction. This undermines children’s ability to participate and invest in their education, despite their motivation [source: Save the Children].

But the issues with mother tongue education for the Rohingya children are deeper, because their mother tongue, Rohingya Zuban, is largely oral. The illiterate community speaks it fluently but does not generally have a means for written communication, through their mother tongue. Interesting work is already being done to establish a written form of Rohingya Zuban. A script was developed decades ago, and has been taught within the established camps and throughout areas of Bangladesh and Malaysia. The teaching is generally ‘under the radar’ of even informal education centers, and the materials used are handwritten, as unicoding of the language, is not complete. But even so, there is a major desire among the children and adults in the established camps to learn the written form; estimates put the number who have learned some of it at 10,000. Even more encouraging is the excitement generated among the students when they do have the opportunity to learn it – there is a true sense of the empowerment and identity that learning to read their own language gives them.

This initial mother tongue education work is unknown to most international agencies setting up learning centers, and its potential is unexplored. TWB is working with these agencies, as well as local organizations, international organizations specializing in mother tongue education and hopefully, the Bangladesh government, to include mother tongue tools in the curriculum. Teaching aids in Rohingya Zuban, mobile and online tools in unicoded Rohingya Zuban, and printed Rohingya Zuban early readers would all make a difference.


Now, back home and separated from the daily grind of the response by miles and time, I have reflected on that seed of hope that is education, and started to figure out how TWB can contribute to its growth. I believe TWB can make the greatest impact, by including mother tongue teaching and learning aids into the education programs being developed for Rohingya children.

The Rohingya refugee crisis offers the potential to educate hundreds of thousands of illiterate children, eager to learn, in their mother tongue. I hope we can make it happen.

Please follow this link to support TWB’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis

Rebecca PetrasBy Rebecca Petras, Deputy Director and Head of Innovation at Translators without Borders.

On the ground in Bangladesh. So – how do we communicate?

A second report from Rebecca Petras who is heading up TWB’s response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The language complexity in the current Rohingya refugee crisis is deep. I had only a faint understanding of it when I landed a few days ago; I have a slightly better sense now. The Rohingya refugees come from Rakhine in Myanmar. They are Muslim; the other dominant population in Rakhine is Buddhist. The political issues between the two groups and the Rakhine as a whole and the government of Myanmar are extremely complicated, and not for my humble explanation. Suffice it to say, on 25 August 2017, a massive and violent event forced thousands of Rohingya to abandon their villages and flee to Bangladesh, through hills, unfriendly areas, and across water. There are still many thousands waiting to cross the river; in total, there are well over 700,000 new arrivals.

In and around Cox’s Bazar, a tourist town (with the world’s longest contiguous beach) in Chittagong division of Bangladesh, there are now official and unofficial camps, sprawling across hills. Because of decades of unrest in Rakhine, there were already approximately 200,000 Rohingya refugees living in either one of two official camps or within the host community, and many have lived there for two decades. They are now witnessing a massive and very uncertain influx from Myanmar, including thousands of orphans, thousands of traumatized and abused women, and many more who need medical attention.

'There really isn’t any communications happening yet, and no one really knows how to do it'

All of this makes for a very complicated language situation, with an amalgamation of spoken Rohingya from long-term refugees and new arrivals, spoken Chittagong from locals, written Bengali (or Bangla), and, possibly, written Burmese. Add layers of what is allowed by the government (still unclear which languages are being allowed), as well as how to translate complicated English terms into Rohingya, and we have a tricky communications issue. One of the main goals of Translators without Borders’ initial work here is to assess the language needs and then direct the numerous responding aid organizations, with accurate information on language. We will be testing assumptions and testing actual comprehension of material that is given to refugees.

We are beginning that assessment now – I will be working with community health workers and youth this coming week, and our research lead (Eric DeLuca) will be joining me in one week to test agency communications tools with new arrivals. But, at the same time, responding aid organizations want to start communicating right now. The community engagement leader of one of our main international partners said when I first met with him that there really isn’t any communications happening yet, and no one really knows how to do it. So while we try to put standards in place, train new interpreters, support interpreters with resources, and address the various language needs, we also need to just start communicating now. With seemingly endless rains and very little infrastructure in the camps, there is a very real danger of water-borne diseases, making communications urgent. What I need most at this time is more time in the day to get it all done.

Below are some suggestions of how you can support this response. Stay tuned for more updates this week.

Rebecca PetrasRebecca Petras, TWB Deputy Director and Head of Innovation

When crisis hits – communication is key

Deployed for the first time in 2015 to respond to the refugee crisis in Greece, the Translators without Borders Arabic Rapid Response Team (RRT) counts over 80 volunteers. From their homes around the world, equipped with an internet connection and a Skype account, the will to help others and language skills, these volunteers bring vital information to thousands of refugees and migrants in Greece, in a language they understand.

‘If people cannot understand each other, there will be a barrier that not only makes it difficult to communicate but also makes it difficult to trust each other’

Muhannad Al-Bayk, a graduate of and now teacher at the University of Aleppo, joined the Arabic RRT in early 2017. Since then, he has been lending his valuable translation skills to TWB partners such as RefuComm, Internews, and the British Red Cross, while juggling his studies and teaching responsibilities.

Having volunteered over 50 translation hours as part of TWB’s response to the refugee crisis in Greece, we were keen to catch up with Muhannad to find out why he decided to join TWB and what motivates him to be involved in this response. Muhannad starts by telling us, ‘I wanted to find a way to give to others who hadn’t been as lucky in life as I have. While researching how to help, I stumbled upon TWB which seemed like a perfect match for my skill set.’

Muhannad’s tasks as an Arabic RRT translator are varied. In addition to translating and editing files using TWB’s translation platform Kató, he also helps develop glossaries, format documents, and other technical tasks. His translation content has also been quite diverse – from translating articles for “News that Moves,” an online information source for refugees and migrants in Greece, to flyers to direct people affected by the Grenfell fires in London, to a helpline. Muhannad believes that these projects are truly helpful ‘because they are timely for the target audience. Being able to read about things as they happen helps people understand what is going on and makes them feel less lost and more involved in their situation.’

‘Working as a volunteer has been an invaluable experience. I’m constantly tackling new issues and learning new things. Meeting a lovely new group of professional people is a bonus. It also taught me to be more committed to timelines, since RRT work relies on fast turnaround times.’

Why language matters in a crisis

The dedicated volunteer wraps up our interview telling us, ‘It is hard to put one’s life in the hands of someone you do not even understand. Therefore, language is key during times of crisis. [Language] connects hearts and minds, it is the primary means of communication’.


Click here to read the stories of other TWB Rapid Response translators.

By Angela Eldering, TWB Volunteer 

 

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