Why volunteer as a humanitarian translator?

The best gift to humanity is inclusion

International Mother Language Day is a moment to celebrate humanitarian translation and promote inclusive conversations for everyone. When we create innovative technology, information, and resources in people’s mother languages, we unlock the potential for everyone to get and share vital knowledge. 

Photo: Pexels

We believe that no language should be left behind in the global effort for equitable, sustainable progress. CLEAR Global and Translators without Borders (TWB) offer a space for anyone, anywhere to share their language skills, support humanitarian translation and development efforts globally, and connect with like-minded volunteers. 

With the TWB Learning Center, our community members can gain experience in humanitarian translation and learn in-demand language industry skills. Frequently updated with new, self-paced online translation courses, it’s a great way for newcomers and language professionals alike to develop their skills and create a positive social impact. It’s how Olena first found the opportunity to use her language skills to help people. The TWB Community brings together over 100,000 language volunteers remotely, helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Our community members help our nonprofit partners worldwide provide lifesaving multilingual messages, ensuring everyone can understand. We encourage everyone to join the TWB Community – to connect, grow, learn, and make an impact.

Now, meet Olena, a community member from Ukraine, living in Italy, who discovered TWB in 2020. Her story shows the power of e-learning to grow humanitarian translation skills and support people with critical health, migration, and welfare information, especially when a crisis hits your homeland.

Olena’s story – discovering humanitarian translation 

When I was discovering the vast world of translation, some three years ago, something whispered inside me: “Here you are, you have your stable job in a company. You have your dream to be a freelancer and to work with languages… and you have this tremendous bundle of doubts wrapping all around you. You have started studying the opportunities, but you will never start to break these ‘strands of doubt’ until you start acting!” 

“Do something CONCRETE!” That was the message that overwhelmed me for many days, while I kept dealing with customer support and translating the manuals for the latest technological machines producing precast CONCRETE. A curious play of words. Vital.

The doubt kept growing – how could I do it? I already translate a lot at my job. I knew that translations needed time, and could not guarantee any deadlines working full-time as an employee. One of the online courses on the TWB Learning Center opened a new world to me – volunteer humanitarian translation

Photo: Jason Goodman, Unsplash

Taking action – joining the TWB Community

And so, I started doing something concrete. I joined the Translators without Borders community, attended their introduction courses, and simply started translating. I had time and could meet deadlines because I could look at the active projects (which are usually not very massive and allow a certain flexibility). I could choose the ones that fit my schedule, and work on them online. 

My initial expectations, i.e., to enter the translators’ community and gain experience, were met and exceeded. I received useful training in humanitarian translations and enhanced my technological skills working on the online CAT (computer-assisted translation) platform provided for these tasks. By the end of the first year, I was quite confident about my skills as a translator and reviser, my translation speed, and eventual specialisms. I received my first notes of recognition from fellow translators and project managers, followed by a global TWB recognition program. And last but not least, I felt my job was important at some global humanitarian level. A wonderful, refreshing sense of contributing to a greater cause.

Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino, Unsplash

Translating for health, migrants, and Ukraine 

I happened to start translating during 2020, submerged in an unexpected pandemic. There was a lot of content on safety and healthcare leaflets and procedures, local regulations, and informative brochures, with the vast majority of materials for migrants and refugees. Then, the war started in my native land of Ukraine. 

I have come to understand one vital problem faced by people suffering from disasters worldwide – language barriers. That very barrier results in an impossibility of asking or getting information, unawareness of the risks and unpreparedness to handle various events, an oppressive feeling of being excluded, ignored, abandoned, losing control of the situation, and depending on someone or something vague. Information and confidence mean a lot to people. It can be a matter of getting relief, signaling new dangers, and even saving lives.

Lviv, Ukraine – March 2, 2022. Evacuees from eastern Ukraine in bus station of Lviv waiting for the bus to Poland. — Source: DepositPhotos

Giving a lot, gaining a lot

I have been giving a lot, and gaining a lot. 

In 2023, I managed to break the ultimate “strands of doubt” keeping me away from my dream. I needed time, and my time has come. After 18 years working for private companies, investing my skills into the fields that were not quite inspiring for my inner self, I decided to accomplish my inspirations, and so I am at the start of a new journey now. And in the meantime, I continue my volunteer activity as well. It didn’t even come to mind to give it up. It has become part of my life now.

Some may think of me as an idealist, but I like to think that my small contribution can make the world better. And I say a special thanks to TWB for the experience that I was able to gain with them – they have been encouraging, transparent, and supportive. This experience is invaluable.

Written by Olena Dmytriieva, TWB Community member

Get involved – discover the TWB Learning Center for yourself

New courses are available now, plus much more on the TWB Learning Center

Discover Desktop Publishing (DTP)

Explore Desktop Publishing (DTP) in our latest self-paced course. DTP is usually the last step in the localization process when translated documents are redesigned for print. Perfect for beginners and those looking to learn DTP theory and get hands-on practice. Check out the course and start learning today. 

Look after your well-being as a language professional: Vicarious Trauma Training

We care about our community’s well-being and aim to support them as volunteer humanitarian translators. That’s why we’re offering a free 90-minute training for TWB Community members, in collaboration with Masterword. CEO and expert Ludmila Golovine explains the impacts of vicarious trauma and strategies you can implement to prioritize your mental health. Exclusive to TWB Community members – check your email inbox for your code to watch on-demand for free

Boost your job hunt: How recruitment works – a guide for job applicants 

Navigate the job market with our new online course – designed to help you understand recruitment processes. It’s self-paced and full of interactive content. Understanding the various aspects of recruitment and human resources can make your job search more effective. Explore the course here and get ready for job market success!

Get started on the TWB Learning Center today

Olena’s story: References and additional reading on humanitarian translation

Crisis Response – Words of Relief – by Translators without Borders

Language as a key for effective Ukraine crisis response – by Milana Vračar, 2022 – CLEAR Global

The Humanitarian Face of Translation – by Lori Thicke, 2002 – MultiLingual Magazine

Language and communication in crisis – by Ingrid Piller, 2021 – Language on the Move Research Blog

The translator is a traitor: translation in humanitarian response – by Rasha Mahmoud Abdel Fattah, 2022 – International Committee of the Red Cross Blog

Further sources for volunteer translators:

20 Best Websites For Volunteer Translators – by Nuno, 2022 (updated) – Translation & Interpreting

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