Translators Without Borders

Virtually every response to international humanitarian crises runs into a language barrier, and often, it’s a problem that costs lives. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, it was mainly the rural poor that perished—Cebuano and Waray-Waray speakers didn’t understand the English-only storm surge warnings. Similarly, English and French-language Ebola education initiatives only reached the elite in West Africa, allowing rumors and misinformation to spread.  Lori Thicke, founder of the language charity Translators Without Borders (TWB), can attest to how often language is overlooked until it’s too late. That’s why she and her partner, Ros Smith-Thomas, founded Traducteurs Sans Frontieres in 1993, providing “pro bono project management to support a community of professional translators around the world who assist humanitarian organizations” from Ashoka to Handicap International. The community officially became Translators Without Borders in 2010. Currently, the organization is engaged in various projects around the world ranging from health education to resources for refugees, detailed below.

TWB’s volunteer community has grown tremendously, with over 3,000 active professional volunteers who support over 490 nonprofits, including Oxfam, Kiva, and Save the Children. There is even a training center in Nairobi, Kenya to prepare local translators. The organizational model is simple, similar to a crowdfunding site: certified translators can sign up and complete assignments from home, in addition to those working on the ground. As a work of citizen diplomacy, TWB has been incredibly successful in increasing the impact of humanitarian organizations and building not only communication networks, but familiarity and trust among local populations.

Translators without Borders Words of Relief program 2016 - responding to the European refugee crisis


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