Successful Year for Health Translators’
Training Center in Kenya

Since the end of July, the Translators without Borders (TWB) Healthcare Translators’ Training Center has been fully operational. Based on the lessons learned during the pilot test in April, we have revised our model. We changed the recruitment procedure, and also the training methods. We currently select people with strong Swahili language skills and provide basic medical information to make them familiar with health-related issues. After the training phase, trainees move into actual translation.

By now, the team consists of 13 fully trained translators/editors; almost half of them have a health background, the others have a language background. Those translators who have a health background make sure the linguists fully understand what they are translating.

Since July, the center has been located in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi, on the campus of the Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) organization (also the home of the East Africa HQ of SIL, the developers of the Ethnologue). In January 2013 we will move from an annex on the campus into the main building. The translators will keep working on the translation of lots of healthcare material, and in February we will start training a new group.

Looking back, we have had a very good year in Kenya. In early March we had nothing. After the pilot in April we spent a great deal of time incorporating the lessons into a revised model. In July we were ready for a new start and everything that we have accomplished until now is the result of six months of hard work by many.

One of the courses we did was a series of short introductory lessons in Medical Translation to around 100 people in April 2011. Some of the participants have mentioned how much they benefited from the training. One good example is that of Sister Perpetua Nyakundi, who develops information about how to prevent and treat infectious eye diseases such as trachoma. A few months after the course she wrote a note to us:

“Thank you for the skills I received during the training. I have so far designed, developed and produced user-friendly information on trachoma in Maasai, Pokot and Turkana. I also produced the same on Cataract in Luo. These are already in circulation and in demand. Thank you for empowering me.”

When I contacted her to thank her for this message, Sister Perpetua commented that our introduction to translation, which highlighted that health information must be easy to understand, made her aware that a lot of the information she had been using was far too complex and therefore not easily accessible. She successfully chased funding and developed new materials. Her “thank you for empowering me” was especially gratifying to hear, as empowerment is exactly what we are aiming to do.

Model can be used in other parts of Africa

Africa is of course much larger than Kenya. Yet we will continue our focus on Kenya and on Swahili, as Swahili is the lingua franca for probably over 100 million people in the Eastern part of Africa. It is an area characterized by the combination of wide-spread poverty, poor public health and a health care system that is inadequate for many people. Also, it typically only has health information in English, which is not the appropriate language to reach most people. Empowering people to translate such materials will prove to have a life-saving effect. Our training model is constantly being evaluated so that eventually it can be used in other areas in Africa, or in other parts of the world, by TWB or by others.

Many thanks

Many people and organizations made our work in Kenya possible this first year. At this point I would like to thank Acrolinx for donating the computers we use in the center, Microsoft for the Windows and Office licenses, Kilgray for the memoQ licenses, Kimotho Waweru for setting up our computers, Dr. Iribe Mwangi of the University of Nairobi for his support and guidance, David Musungu and other external editors for their work, and all the bright minds who enhanced the quality of our training program by giving a guest lecture (representing Doctors without Borders, Google Africa, Praekelt Foundation, Microsoft, SIL, BTL, University of Nairobi and more).

Individuals and companies are actively supporting our work. Others donate money. It was heart-warming to learn about the various translation and localization companies who decided to donate $1,000 in our Fund-A-Translator program. A special thanks to Language Connect, which generously donated $5,000. Then there was the Polish language service provider TextPartner, which organized a 400-kilometer sponsored bike ride from Krakow to Budapest, raising $2,000! They will do another in May/June, covering five countries in their ride!  Another big thank you to Henry Dotterer, founder of, which powers our worldwide network of translators.  On top of all else they do, matched our Fund-a-Translator program in November as part of the #GivingTuesday campaign in the U.S.  Thanks to them and to so many others who have given to our training center.

TwB is a large organization, but it only has one paid staff member, Rebecca Petras. All other members of the management team are volunteers, combining TWB work with their day jobs. And again many others also combine their normal work with some level of volunteer work for TWB. We feel we have a great cause, and this is the time of the year to express our gratitude. On behalf of the Nairobi center manager, the translators and the editors at TWB Kenya, I would very much like to thank everybody for their input, efforts, donations and contributions during 2012. I sincerely hope that you will support us in 2013 as well! If you have read all this and feel you want to be part of it, please visit the TWB website, think about children who die because health information was not in a language they could understand, click the Donate button, and be generous. Thank you, and have a great 2013!

Simon Andriesen