Our Typhoon Translation Team

In early November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) wreaked havoc across the central Philippines. For this current issue, we have decided to profile a few members of our Typhoon Translation Team who have helped translate survivors’ life-saving messages from and into their local languages, such as Tagalog, Cebuano and Waray. Lois Goldman and Lysander E. Canlas –Sandy- tell us about their experience as key mediators between the survivors, the Digital Humanitarian Network and humanitarian aid partners.

If you were to write a brief wiki article about yourself, what facts and personal characteristics would you include?

Lois: I was born in California, to an American father and a Philippine mother. When I was four, I moved to Philippines, where I picked up Tagalog and Cebuano.

I absolutely love learning about different cultures. I took Arabic at college for two semesters and I have also studied Croatian for a year! I joined the military as a linguist. I am currently living in Hawaii and I serve in the reserve. I am also a language consultant for a private company.

I have a 3-year-old son, Tristian.

Sandy: I was born and grew up in Philippines. My mother was an English Professor in college there. I took my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and then I became very much interested in computer programming. At the age of 27, I moved to the United States, where I currently live. I first came to the US to learn more on the field of computers, but with time and the different jobs, I became an investment advisor. The 11-S killed the market and I lost my source of income. At the time, my sister was an interpreter in San Francisco and she encouraged me to be involved as a translator. So I became an interpreter in New Jersey. I moved to South California, where there is a huge population from the Philippines. As a translator I work with all types of industries and as an interpreter, I mainly work with lawyers and insurance companies –my sister and I used to say that our livelihood depends on crime rates!

Can you tell us a bit about your experience with the catastrophe in Philippines?

Lois: It was a very emotional experience. I had never worked with Translators without Borders before the typhoon. At the time of the catastrophe, I knew I had to help in some way.

Via a Skype window – by means of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) – and also searching in different social media, such as Twitter and reports online, I started translating emergency messages from Tagalog and Cebuano into English. For example, if someone was injured or was in need of food or water, I translated their messages and forwarded them to humanitarian aid, so as the much needed help and medical assistance was provided. It was an extreme situation: no food reached the survivors for almost a week; they were starving and getting sick. I translated the messages sent by local people and then; the DHN Network sent the translated messages to a Partner, so as to reach for help.

I was very affected by the typhoon since it devastated the area where I grew up. I jumped at a chance to help. I was watching my Skype window to detect any message asking for immediate help.

Sandy: I had contributed with Translators without Borders several times before, so when they joined forces with the Digital Humanitarian Network, I volunteered. We prepared lists of emergency words, so when these were detected, that meant that someone was in need of help.

I monitored tweets in three languages: Cebuano, Tagalog and Waray. Some tweets made no sense at all. Unfortunately, after a few hours following the typhoon, there was a total media blackout; people ran out of batteries and all tweets stopped. After the storm nobody could tweet anymore. It was a helpless feeling. Only silence was there. Even now, communications have not been fully restored. TWB decided to send people to the disaster area. The Disaster Tech Lab is working hard to repair communications. I volunteered to go there and I am deploying to the typhoon disaster area this week!


Lorena Baudo