The role of translation in international communication is vital but often overlooked. As contributors who have more of a behind-the-scenes role it is easy to underestimate the impact of translators’ work and how difficult tasks such as the Philippines typhoon relief effort would be without them. The hands-on work of rescuers and doctors is, of course, essential and difficult and these volunteers rightly receive praise and recognition for their efforts. While linguists working for charities such as Translators without Borders aren’t physically on the front line, their role is equally vital. This is particularly true in the case of the Philippines where 2 official languages and 8 recognised regional languages are spoken – effective communication is required in numerous languages. Using a bank of Tagalog (or Filipino) and English speaking translators who also have knowledge of the country’s principal dialects, Translators without Borders were able to assist with the provision of aid in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. As the charity’s contributing linguists are spread across the globe, it was possible for their team to provide 24 hour assistance. Rebecca Petras, Program Director for Translators Without Borders describes the work of the charity immediately after Typhoon Haiyan hit:
“With the team assembled, the real work began on Friday, November 8. The initial activation came from UN OCHA via the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). As a member of DHN, we work with a wide array of committed aid response organizations that help the major responders to quickly put together a picture of the situation, often using micro-mapping and big data to assist. Social media is mined for this work, and our initial role in this activation was to handle the non-English Tweets and public Facebook messages. Additionally we created a list of key terms – everything from ‘flood’ through ‘damaged’ and ‘injured’ to ‘dead’ – in Tagalog and Cebuano in order to help data miners sort through and prioritize the mountains of information being generated.
As the activation continued and responders on the ground gained a clearer picture of the devastation, we were called in by other partners to be ready to respond. One of our translators worked directly with Humanity Road, a DHN partner that educates the public before, during, and after a crisis. We are also a full member of the CDAC-Network (Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities), which was created by major aid organizations, including UN OCHA, Save the Children, WorldVision, Internews, the International Federation of Red Cross, and Red Crescent Societies, to improve ‘Communications with Communities’ (or CwC). CwC is being recognized more and more as critical factor during a crisis. While it might seem obvious, it is not simple when all telecommunications are down, cell phone batteries die, and people speak an array of different languages. Through CDAC-N we are on call to assist with communications from aid workers to the affected populations as they work feverishly to get materials and information out. Finally, we are on call with UNHCR, which is the lead organization for refugees, to provide translations of more long term and longer format materials for refugees who will not have proper shelter for many months to come.”
To read more about Translator’s without Borders’ work, click the link below: