'Do you need a doctor?' 'Boil water for safe drinking.' 'What is your name?'
Basic phrases that can change and save lives in a humanitarian emergency. Yet often communication fails because humanitarian aid workers and the people affected do not speak the same language. Information in the wrong language is useless.
Words of Relief is the first crisis response translation network intended to improve communications between crisis-affected communities and humanitarian responders before, during and after a crisis, by eliminating the language 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 networks of trained translators, often in the diaspora, who can provide immediate assistance.
- Developing freely downloadable multilingual glossary apps to support the consistent translation of key terms.
- Promoting the use and development of machine translation and other language technology tools for emergency response.
- Working with others to collect and disseminate data on the languages crisis-affected people speak and understand, as a basis for communication.
- Providing advice and information on the most effective languages, formats, and channels for communicating with affected people.
Words of Relief was piloted from January 2014 to April 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya with a focus on Swahili and Somali. The pilot provided language services to humanitarian partner organizations, trained 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 Digital Exchange (WoRDE) was also developed as a repository for pre-translated crisis content in local languages.
The Words of Relief model has since been effectively deployed to help people affected by humanitarian emergencies worldwide. TWB has provided language support in crises from the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the Caribbean and southern USA in 2017. In the refugee response in Greece since 2015, Rapid Response Teams of professional volunteers have delivered high-quality translations in Arabic, Farsi, Greek, Kurdish and Urdu. Whether addressing refugees’ information needs in their own language, training humanitarian staff in the basics of interpreting, or developing tools and resources for language support personnel, TWB has helped aid organizations to help those in need.