'Do you need a doctor?' 'Boil water for safe drinking.' 'What is your name?'
These and other basic phrases can change lives profoundly during times of crisis response. Yet often communication fails because humanitarian aid workers and the affected populations do not speak the same language. Information in the wrong language is useless.
Words of Relief is the first crisis relief translation network intended to improve communications between crisis-affected communities and humanitarian responders before, during and after a crisis, by eliminating linguistic barriers that can impede vital relief efforts. Translators without Borders does this by:
- Training translators and interpreters in the languages of crisis-affected countries
- Translating and openly disseminating critical messages in the appropriate languages before crises occur
- Building spider networks of diaspora translators who are trained and can provide immediate assistance
- Promoting the use and development of machine translation and other language technology tools for emergency response
Words of Relief was piloted from January 2014 to April 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya with a focus on Swahili and Somali. The program provided translation and language services to humanitarian partner organizations, trained interpreters and translators on the ground, provided language and translation coordination across agencies and worked to standardize terminology to improve the overall information developed.
The Words of Relief model has since been effectively deployed to help victims of several crises worldwide, including the Ebola emergency in West Africa and the Nepal earthquake. Rapid Response Teams in Arabic, Farsi, Greek, Kurdish and Urdu are currently providing immediate, high-quality translations for aid organizations along the refugee route in Europe. Every day, teams of professional volunteers work in collaboration with Internews to translate critical information on reception centers and ferry strikes, signage for the centers, and health information.
Words of Relief relies on a crowd-sourced, online (and mobile) application, called the Words of Relief Digital Exchange (WoRDE). Launched in 2014, the platform connects our teams of rapid response translators with aid workers and data aggregators to translate during a sudden onset crisis. WoRDE helps improve communications during a crisis between affected communities and aid workers when they do not speak the same language by acting as a repository for pre-translated crisis content in local languages.