Translators without Borders ups humanitarian aid in Africa

Greater access to vital healthcare information, disaster relief and training provided as the non-profit expands its global programmes on the continent.
Translators without Borders (TwB) has increased the African component of several major programmes as part of its global mission to provide people with access to vital information in their own language.

Translators without Borders ups humanitarian aid in Africa
Since its inception in 2010, TwB has completed pro bono translations of more than 14 million words for over 250 non-governmental organisations (NGOs). As others have joined its mission, TwB has significantly increased its humanitarian work around the world, growing its translation volumes ten-fold in the last three years.

Lori Thicke, president and founder of TwB, says that 2013 has been a year of extraordinary growth. “In the last 12 months, we’ve translated more than 7 million words, grown key projects and achieved greater financial stability, thanks to significant contributions from our volunteers, donors and other partners.”

TwB honours supporters that exemplify its mission of translating for humanity in an annual Access to Knowledge Awards, with winners chosen by its boards of directors and advisors. As a Gold sponsor of TwB since the start, global language services provider Rubric has received The Donor Award.

Rubric and its fellow award recipients have enabled TwB to greatly expand its 100×100 Wikipedia Project on healthcare, create the largest simplified English medical terminology database, fund the piloting of its Words of Relief crisis network, and grow its training and translation centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

Healthcare Information For All

Healthcare in Africa remains a challenge with less than half of all countries on track to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Africa’s child mortality rates are still the world’s highest. Accounting for one in nine deaths before age five, this is more than 16 times the average in developed regions (one in 152). Yet, only six countries are on track to reduce this by two-thirds by 2015. Knowledge and information, especially in resource-poor settings, can help improve the delivery of better quality healthcare and prevent more deaths.

To create a universal repository of medical knowledge, especially in languages where good health information is hard to get, TwB launched the Wikipedia 100×100 Project with Wikimedia Canada and WikiProject Medicine. Both TwB and Wikimedia Canada are supporters of Healthcare Information For All by 2015.

The 100×100 Project focuses on Wikipedia medical and health care articles considered fundamental because of their content and quality. The aim is to translate the 100 articles most viewed into simpler English and then into 100 other languages. To date, nearly three million words have been delivered, which includes several African languages – in particular Swahili, which has more than 65 million speakers as the lingua franca of East Africa.

Disaster relief communication

TwB in 2013 received funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund for its Words of Relief pilot project. In times of humanitarian emergencies like the Haiti earthquake of 2010, from which TwB was borne, the organisation works with aid response organisations to improve communication with local populations.

Its Word of Relief pilot will test the concept of a spider network of responders in regional and local languages as well as an interactive, collaborative and mobile translation system to engage expats quickly and in a meaningful way. The project will kick off in February in Kenya with Somali and Swahili.

Translators without Borders ups humanitarian aid in Africa
Training of translators

TwB has also grown its Training and Translation Centre in Nairobi, Kenya to build language capacity in East Africa. The centre currently has 10 translators and editors who are nurtured by the TwB training director for a career in translation.

TwB gives translators the technology they need for success and train them in aspects like translation memories to match the professional skills of any European on North American translators. By professionalising translation in Kenya, TwB is also establishing translation as a viable profession for Africans.

Trainees focus on healthcare content in Swahili for the Health Education and Training project from The Open University. This project aims to train 250,000 frontline healthcare workers in sub-Saharan Africa by 2016 by translating health modules from European languages into the languages used by community health workers. To date, 500,000 words of training materials have already been completed.

Access to Knowledge

Fran├žoise Henderson, CEO at Rubric, says the company shares TwB’s founding belief that every person deserves information in his or her own language.

“It has been a pleasure to extend our corporate vision and closely partner with TwB to empower people with clear and concise translations. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the non-profit through our advisory board and technical committee roles and to drive our joint mission forward,” says Henderson.

Medicine in the media: who’s holding the bag?

A lack of information isn’t something modern society has to worry about. Quite the contrary, today we actually face an information overload. Where previously, news was limited to a wigged horseman riding from town to town delivering his message, we now enter an era where the horse itself may bombard us with endless equestrian ramblings via its Twitter feed.
As we are subjected to this barrage of information with each blog post, tweet and talk show jostling for its time in the sun, it is easier than ever for content producers to err on the side of attention-grabbing sensationalism, rather than staying true to cold hard facts. For this reason, it’s important for all producers of content to take a certain level of responsibility for their work, especially in the medical field where it can be easy to prey on the public’s thoughts of their own mortal fragility.

As a practicing doctor, with a considerably active social-media life, and co-presenter on a nationally broadcast medical talk show, I’ve been able to examine some of the pitfalls and challenges regarding medicine in the media. From this viewpoint, I’d like to propose methods for content producers to overcome these difficulties by assuming responsibility for, and thus exploiting, the potential of information.

Talking to the camera, as I’ve found, is not dissimilar to holding a consultation; although in this case, instead of conveying information to an individual and his/her loved ones, you’re conversing with millions of viewers who span a vast array of socio-economic strata, education and language levels, as well as religious and cultural backgrounds. Where the difficulty lies, is in the lack of feedback that is usually afforded by face-to-face discussion. This being said, principles of good communication are as applicable in a studio as they are in the consultation room.

Doctors are the gatekeepers of highly specialized information and have a responsibility to convey this knowledge in sincere, concise and easy-to-understand language, while trying to avoid medical jargon. Doctors should also steer away from “dumbing down” in order to retain the essence of information. As you can imagine, this is a fine line to tread without constant feedback from your audience.

To do this well, information should be transferred in small chunks in a well-paced manner, which allows time for the audience to process what is being said, followed by summarizing the most important points at the end. Also, it should be stressed that all forms of media are informative and serve as a screening tool at most, and cannot supersede physical examination and diagnosis by a physician.

The opinion of the doctor as a well-respected expert is preserved through all forms of media, and thus should be heeded responsibly. There exists a delicate balance that the producer has to strike between entertaining and informing the audience, so as to not distort reality or, as I’ve mentioned, err on the side of sensationalism in the quest for the almighty “Audience Rating”.

With medical knowledge being readily available via radios, computers, televisions, and even cellular phones, ignorance is no longer an option in greater society. This introduces an immense opportunity for health promotion and disease prevention through passive and, more importantly, voluntary education.

However, choose your source of information wisely, as the next time you quote the lyrical epithets of an equine-tweet, you may just land up with foot-in-mouth disease.