If you can’t communicate with people, you can’t help them

Two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal in April this year, leaving villages flattened, displacing 450,000 people and taking 8,600 lives. As soon as news of the disaster came in, Translators without Borders (TWB) used its network and social media to establish a virtual Rapid Response Team (RRT) of translators based around the world.

Without knowing the organization before, Kajal Pradhanang came across TWB’s Facebook post recruiting Nepali translators, and volunteered as a native speaker just a day after the first earthquake. I wanted to help in any way possible, especially since I am so far away. It was about 4am when I received an email with details about the team, and two minutes later I was in. I started to translate humanitarian appeals to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) a couple of hours later.”

Worrying about the well-being of her family in Nepal, Pradhanang was not getting much sleep and instead, kept translating. “I think that lots of people were feeling the same way I did. We were all online, working on a joint Google document so we could see the progress we were making. With five people translating simultaneously, we would be done in two hours. At the end, one person would edit and proofread the entire document.”

When aid organizations are being stretched too thinly providing material and medical aid during such crises, TWB helps deliver information in local languages, connecting communities in distress with aid agencies and nonprofit organizations through its Translators without Borders’ Words of Relief program. RRTs, consisting of professional and community translators, are set up to meet the need.

“TWB believes that people deserve to be spoken to in their own language in times of disaster. I have realized myself that if you can’t communicate with people, you can’t help them,” Pradhanang explained.

Apart from translating UNOCHA press releases, or social media posts, Pradhanang also assisted collaboration between international nonprofit Humanity Road and locally based Kathmandu Living Labs crisis mapping project, (quakemap.org). “Volunteers’ efforts responding to Nepal crisis were impressive,” she remembers. “It was amazing to see how people came up with lots of great things, helping out in different ways. For example, one person provided us with an app that vocalizes Devanagari script.”

With a background in Business Administration and Management, Pradhanang is not a professional translator, but wanted to help people at home despite living overseas. “After the first earthquake I was not in the best place in my mind, I was not in contact with my family for six hours and it was nerve-racking. Especially when I was worried about my immediate family, working for TWB and Humanity Road, it helped me help myself while helping others.”

Markéta Sošťáková

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