Words of Relief takes flight: Pilot of translation crisis relief network begins

HIF Blog: January 2014

Words of Relief Global Coordinator, Grace Tang


Words of Relief Project Manager, Jane Nduta Mwangi

During and immediately following a sudden-onset crisis, one of the most critical priorities for both relief workers and affected populations is sending and receiving information. Yet language barriers frequently complicate this effort. Most recently, aid workers assisting survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines had to manage communications with and among populations that spoke three indigenous languages: Filipino (Tagalog), Waray-Waray, and Cebuano.

Linguistic barriers are a longstanding, if unresolved, problem in humanitarian operations. In fact, a 2011 report from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Disaster Relief 2.0, cites lack of translation support as a “perennial hidden issue…delaying critical communications and disenfranchising affected populations.” It was the 2010 Haiti earthquake that was the catalyst for establishing Translators without Borders to bridge this communication gap by providing humanitarian NGOs around the world with pro-bono professional translation services.

And now with our Words of Relief translation crisis relief pilot in Kenya, funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, we are tackling this issue head on. It is exciting—and frankly a luxury—to have the opportunity to explore the very real language and translation needs of crisis-response aid workers in a non-crisis environment. That allows us to take the time to get the various elements of the network just right.

Translators without Borders Honors Volunteers, Donors and Non-profit Partners with Second Annual Access to Knowledge Awards

(DANBURY, CT USA – 10 January 2014) Global translation charity, Translators without Borders (TWB) today announced the winners of its second annual Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Awards. The awards, honoring six individuals or organizations who exemplify the mission to translate for humanity, are chosen by the non-profit’s boards of directors and advisors.

“We have had an extraordinary year of growth,” said Lori Thicke, president and founder of Translators without Borders. “In addition to translating more than 7 million words in the year, we also grew our training and translation center in Nairobi, greatly expanded our 100 x 100 Wikipedia medical article project, created the largest simplified English medical terminology database, and received funding to pilot our Words of Relief crisis relief network. None of this would be possible without the generous support of our donors, the dedication of our volunteers, and the commitment of our non-profit partners.”

The organization created the Access to Knowledge Awards in 2012 to honor volunteers, donors, and non-profit partners. The awards are given within each of the Translators without Borders’ six ‘pillars’: Organizational Excellence, Translator Community and Workspace, Training, Nonprofit Partnerships, Financial Sustainability, Awareness and Communications.

The organization’s board of directors, program director and board of advisors nominate recipients and then vote on the candidates. In addition to six winners, a number of honorable mentions were also awarded.

The 2013 Winners of the Access to Knowledge Award

The Excellence Award Awarded to an individual who has gone above and beyond the call-of-duty in helping Translators without Borders meet its mission.

Awarded to Josefina Zubillaga

Honorable Mentions

  • Kalinka Hristova
  • Anne-Marie Colliander-Lind

The Right to Knowledge Award Awarded to an individual (or company contributor) who has made a difference through his or her ongoing commitment to translation of humanitarian information.

Awarded to Ashutosh Mitra and Eric Ragu

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jacek Sierakovski
  • Vito Smolej

The Empowerment Award Awarded to an individual whose work has allowed us to significantly move the barometer in increasing language capacity within a critical region of the world.

Awarded to Marek Gawrysiak and Lucjan Szreter

Honorable Mention:

  • Lesley-Anne Long
  • Marek Pawelec

The Humanitarian Communicator Award Awarded to a non-profit who understands the critical link between language/translation and access to critical knowledge.

Awarded to Wiki Project Med Foundation

Honorable mentions:

  • CDAC-Network
  • Fairstart

The Donor Award Awarded to the individual or company or foundation/trust that has made a significant financial contribution to aid TWB in meeting its mission.

Awarded to Rubric

Honorable Mentions

  • Moravia
  • Kilgray

The Communicator of the Year Awarded to the person who has creatively used marketing and public relations to build awareness of the organization and the need to provide content in the right language.

Awarded to Gary Lefman

Honorable Mentions:

  • Scott Abel
  • Anna Harju

The Translators without Borders’ Access to Knowledge recipients will receive a Translators without Borders T-Shirt, a lapel pen and a certificate of gratitude.

“I wish we could recognize by name every single person who contributed to Translators without Borders in 2013—there are so very many people who make it work,” said Rebecca Petras, program director. “And the real winners are the people who can better understand vital information because of the hard work of ALL our volunteers and support from ALL our donors. Thank you very much to everyone!”

The Wikipedia Project Update

Some time ago, Translators without Borders launched the Wikipedia project together with Wikiproject Medicine and Wikimedia Canada. The aim of this project is to translate 100 selected and reviewed health care Wikipedia articles into 100 languages, and thus create an universal repository of medical knowledge, especially in languages where good health information is scarce and hard to get.

We are proud to announce that we have released the first article into Quechua ( http://qu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faringitis_estreptocócica_kaqqa ) and K’iche’ ( https://incubator.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wp/quc/Le_uyab%27il_qulaj_estreptocócica ). A second article, on Croup, is being translated in these two languages and into Guarani.

The deployed article deals with Streptococcal pharyngitis and it was first translated by Susana Rosselli into simplified Spanish and then by the teams coordinated by the Spanish company IDISC into these Native American languages.

Thanks to this deployment, the Wikimedia Foundation created an incubator Wiki for K’ichi. A Wiki incubator is a wiki where content can be added and read, but it does not become a full Wiki until there is a certain amount of content and a certain size of community to manage it. 

Watch this video and help raise funds for Translators without Borders

What a wonderful world! Thank you very much to our gold sponsor, Moravia. Every unique visit to this lovely holiday message raises funds for Translators without Borders. Please watch!


Your talent matches our needs …

Translators without Borders depends on volunteers to translate millions of words, but also to help us run our organization! We work with volunteers who have all kinds of great skills – and many learn new skills that they can use in their jobs. Here is a list of current needs (http://translatorswithoutborders.com/Volunteer-Opportunities):

Skills: Create impactful videos using raw footage provided by TWB; upload on our YouTube site
Time: 10 hours per month. 

Skills: Database management; coordination with overall team; some communications with our volunteer physicians. Time: 1 – 2 hours per week.

Translators without Borders response to the Philippines Typhoon


Thursday (November 7) night at the tcworld Conference this year was like none other for me. Normally a relaxing second moment in the middle of this particular conference, this time I had only one thing on my mind: An enormous typhoon was barreling toward the central Philippines, and Translators without Borders was being asked to activate a team to help deal with the chaos that was bound to ensue.

After dinner I worked through the night assembling our team, putting communications pieces in place, and keeping the vast and wide network of humanitarian aid responders with whom we partner apprised of our capabilities. Meanwhile, I watched as the typhoon made landfall and the area of greatest impact went dark. Mother Nature reminding us who is in charge: A circumstance that has become more familiar over the past four years but, fortunately, one that we are learning to address more quickly in an attempt to use language to save lives.

It was almost four years ago now since Haiti was ravaged by an earthquake. That crisis was a wake-up call for the translation industry—and, more importantly, the international aid organizations—regarding the vital role translation plays during such a crisis. The silver lining to that disaster was the growth of Translators without Borders, with a dedicated board and a committed advisory committee. We now handle more than 750,000 humanitarian words every month through the Translators without Borders Workspace (powered by Proz.com) and we have a vast network of translators ready to help out. This infrastructure was critical in setting up our response to last week’s typhoon. Tagalog (or Filipino) and English are the national languages of the Philippines. There are also eight major dialects; in central Philippines the most important being Waray and Cebuano. We were able to quickly assemble a team of Tagalog translators who could also handle the major dialects. A key factor was that the members of this team of dedicated volunteers were geographically dispersed, allowing us to  offer assistance quickly at any time of the day.

Super Typhoon Yolanda

UN OCHA Typhoon Yolanda Philippines Deployment

Activation Requested (7 - Nov 2013)

In response to Typhoon Yolanda, the DHN Network has mobilized to support Palau and the Philippines. We have been contacted by United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the Philippines Red Cross to assist in providing information management support.


Highlights:  On Nov 7h, the Digital Humanitarian Network received an activation request from the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs  (UNOCHA) to support needs for Typhoon Yolanda.   Super Typhoon Yolanda made landfall early on Nov 8 in Guiuan municipality, Eastern Samar province, Eastern Visayas region.  The storm hit with 150mph winds and gusts up to 170mph.  Roads have been impacted in Region V and Region VIII.   There is no cell phone signal in Regions VII and VIII as well as 4 municipalities in Northern Cebu. Storm surges and flash floods have been reported in Eastern Samar and Leyte, causing significant damage to buildings and houses, according to UN OCHA. A landslide in Cebu has also been reported by the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Strong winds and heavy rainfall have disrupted telecommunications,  limiting information coming out of affected areas.  UN OCHA requested information on population displacement , affected community needs  and international and national humanitarian support.  The deployment response is structured in three phases.  Here is an overview from each solution team member.

Overview SBTF CrisisMap Provided by Esri

Translators without Borders: Responded to the activation request with translation support in Tagalog. They are supporting translation of messages and keywords for monitoring.

Source: http://digitalhumanitarians.com/profiles/blogs/yolanda

Translators without Borders Receives Funding for Crisis Relief Network

Translators without Borders (TWB) is pleased to announce funding for a pilot of its Words of Relief system to improve communications between aid workers and local populations during humanitarian emergencies. The funding by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) recognizes the critical role language and translation play in improving crisis response and saving lives.

Translators without Borders will test the concept in Kenya with Swahili and Somali, and will work collaboratively with a number of partners including UN-OCHA, the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities Network (CDAC-N), Acrolinx, Content Rules and Microsoft. TWB was one of six projects to receive funding in HIF’s fifth round of funding; total funding for the projects exceeded one million dollars.

Kim Scriven, manager of the HIF said: “This round of funding has identified an exciting and diverse range of innovative ideas at the forefront of the humanitarian system.” The HIF, supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), funds projects across the world which use innovation and technology to improve the global response to natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

Words of Relief was developed to address a critical problem: two-way communications during and immediately after a crisis. During a prolonged crisis or following a sudden-onset crisis, one of the most immediate priorities for both relief workers and victims is disseminating and receiving information. Yet language barriers frequently complicate this effort. This was particularly apparent after the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami in Japan, when NGOs and frontline aid workers realized they were unprepared and unable to communicate in the primary languages of the affected populations. According to a 2012 report by the International Organization for Migration, “Affected households prefer receiving information in their regional language…. [but] the role of regional and local languages is often neglected while devising communication strategies.”

Words of Relief aims to eliminate linguistic barriers that can impede vital response and relief efforts during and after a crisis by 1) building a corps of vetted translators and interpreters, as well as machine translation capacity, in under-resourced world languages; 2) preparing a digital “inventory” of essential crisis response information in multiple local languages that can be accessed on demand by aid organizations, frontline relief workers, and affected communities; and 3) maintaining a network of human and technological linguistic resources that can be mobilized immediately in response to a crisis. The pilot of the program will test processes and technologies to be used in development of a worldwide network.

The pilot is a 17-month project, commencing in November.

For more information about HIF funding click here

To view the HIF’s portfolio of projects click here

For further information contact: 

Rebecca Petras rebecca@translatorswithoutborders.org, 



The Translators without Borders Workspace

Most of our translation work is delivered through our managed crowdsourced community, the Translators without Borders Workspace, powered by Proz.com. The workspace was established in early 2011, and, as of mid-2013, an average of 700,000 humanitarian words are translated every month. These are not just words: They allow our non-profit partners to reach more people with more knowledge in every corner of the world. The words are all translated by vetted, professional translators around the world who work directly with our approved non-profits. Most jobs are picked up by a translator in 15 minutes or less. The workspace is continually improved with new capabilities, and capacity continues to grow.

The workspace is generously engineered and managed by Proz.com.

Translators Without Borders has won a major humanitarian grant for disaster relief

We are pleased to announce funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund for our Words of Relief pilot, testing a worldwide system for translation during and immediately after a crisis.

More info to come! 


News from the +Translators without Borders Translation Center from Enrique Cavalitto

We have introduced some new processes and capabilities for the Workspace. Please let us know what you think!

Service agreements for translators

We have added service agreements to our process in order to protect the privacy of content and ensure confidentiality.  Translators acting as Translators without Borders (TWB) volunteers now will be asked to endorse a service agreement stating:

  • The service provider agrees to treat as confidential all texts and other intellectual property of the client received or accessed in the Translators without Borders Workspace, and to take steps to protect that confidentiality.
  • TWB volunteers are free to accept or decline any task offered to them. Once a task is accepted, it should be delivered with the same quality and dedication given to a paid job.

Since these commitments are included in ProZ.com professional guidelines {http://www.proz.com/professional-guidelines} for translation service providers, many of our volunteers have already endorsed then. Only translators who have not endorsed these guidelines will be asked to do so, or to endorse a TWB specific service agreement.

Files can now be uploaded in comments

It is possible now to upload a file in the comments posted on job pages. This will help translators who have already uploaded a file and marked the task as complete, and then need to release a new version, for instance because an error was found and corrected. It was previously necessary to reopen the task, but now the translator can simply upload the new file with a comment. This will also be useful for sharing glossaries, translation memories and other reference documents.

Enhanced dashboards

Both clients and translators will benefit from the enhanced dashboards accessible from the ‘home’ menu option. On their dashboard, clients will find two tabs for ‘active jobs’ and ‘overdue jobs,’ while the options for translators are ‘active assigned tasks,’ ‘available tasks’ and ‘completed tasks’. In all cases a list will be presented, and clicking on the link will lead to the corresponding job or task.

Work orders can be searched by keywords

There is a ‘search work order’ button in the ‘work orders’ -> ‘view work orders’ menu option for clients who need to find a previously posted work order. A new ‘keywords’ option has been added to allow for the search of work orders for keywords in titles and descriptions. Some clients have posted a lot of work orders, so an enhanced search feature will be welcome. Other search filters include ‘order status’ and ‘project.’

We proudly write this letter to express our sincere appreciation of the good work that you are undertaking concerning the translation of our English study materials into Portuguese. We are glad to inform you that the translated tasks are so beneficial in our training programs for the young cadres who are studying how they can be world activists in the world full of injustice. We also extend the many greetings from our Frontline Institute school in Angola who are benefiting a lot from the translated tasks. May such efforts continue to prevail forever.
Luckson Soda, Principal, Development Aid From People to People (Zimbabwe):

Kalinka Hristova - Our Volunteer Hero

The volunteer staff at Translators without Borders (TWB) is adept at donning many different job hats and Kalinka Hristova, the interviewee in this issue, is no exception. Our newly appointed NGO Approval Manager, Kalinka likes to keep us on our toes with salient quotes at the end of her emails, such as: “Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.” Her own thirst for knowledge and quest for quality ensure that there is no fear that this quote could ever be applied to Kalinka.

  • If you were to write a brief Wikipedia article about yourself, what facts and personal characteristics would you include?

I’m Bulgarian and I live in Bulgaria, surprisingly! I think I must be one of the very few who hasn’t left. I love my country’s nature, its traditions, and its caves. I am very fond of speleology, which I practice as a hobby. During my university years, I started practicing extreme caving. I hold a degree in tourism, and as a tour guide I have specialized in caving tourism. There are only nine tourist caves in Bulgaria; they are so different, so quiet… I just love them!

As regards translation, it happened gradually in my life and became an integral part of it. I have always been fond of languages. As a child, I wanted to know four or five languages, and now I can speak seven foreign languages!  So, I’ve actually exceeded my childhood dream.

Our translation center in Nairobi: An update by Simon Andriesen

Swahili Translations

July saw the completion by our Health Translation Center in Nairobi, Kenya, of the translation of some 250,000 words of high-level health information. The content was written by the Open University (UK) to train community health workers in the Swahili-speaking regions of East Africa. The completed modules are Prenatal Care, Labour & Delivery Care, and Postnatal Care. Other modules are in the pipeline, and these are about topics such as Infant Care Nutrition and Family Planning.

The team also recently completed the Swahili translation of ten videos on New Born Care. These instructional videos have been conceptualized and produced by Deb Van Dyke’s Global Health Media (http://globalhealthmedia.org/newborn/videos ).  In total the team has translated more than 20 videos. The work involved the translation of the English captions (subtitles) and putting the Swahili subtitles in the video, as well as recording the narrative, with Rodha Moraa, one of the translation team members, serving as the ‘voice actor’.

NGO Spotlight: Norlha

Norlha was founded in 2005, in Switzerland, and today has delegations in several European countries. This secular NGO, whose membership consists mainly of private individuals from all walks of life, provides development assistance through various projects in Tibetan areas of China, in Bhutan and in Nepal, in cooperation with local partners, with an aim to help communities achieve self-sufficiency. Norlha works with Translators without Borders for the translation of documents mainly to and from French and English, as well as French into German and Spanish.


Norlha’s Partnerships Manager and Gender Equality Coordinator, Cosima Thommen, spoke with us about her work and the NGO’s partnership with Translators without Borders. “I seek out project financing and establish partnerships with organizations that share our vision and goals, in order to create a bridge of solidarity between the Swiss Alps and the Himalayas. My team and I also develop a regional program for Himalayan women which promotes gender equality, strengthening the role of women in the region’s development. Before my current position, I spent a year and a half in the Tibetan regions of China as Norlha’s Program Director for China. My degrees are in project management and Chinese, so being able to contribute to the improvement of living conditions in the Himalayas with Norlha is a great pleasure!”