Words of Relief

Organisation: Translators Without Borders

Partners: Acrolinx; CDAC Network, Content Rules, Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN), Microsoft MT Local Language Team

Location: Kenya

Type of grant: Core – recognition

Status: Completed

  • TWOB Final Report Image

  • Language Matters Infographic tool

  • ISOS Ebola KRIO

  • Poster: What to do if you think you have Ebola


Summary: Translators Without Border’s Words of Relief Crisis Response Network is a global translation and localization initiative. Leveraging both human and technological resources, the project builds capacity to facilitate and improve communication among victims, field workers, and relief agencies during and after crises.

Challenge(s) addressed:

Following a crisis, one of the most immediate priorities for both relief workers and victims is disseminating and receiving information. However, language barriers on the ground frequently complicate response and recovery efforts. This gap became particularly apparent after the Haiti earthquake and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, when NGOs and frontline aid workers realized they were unprepared and unable to communicate in the primary languages of the affected populations.

Innovation Factor: Social media, mobile communications, and digital technologies now enable real-time communication between victims, relief workers, and remote volunteers, dramatically increasing the flow of vital information in the wake of a crisis. 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 pool of 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 mobilize immediately in response to a crisis.

Innovation Phases Description: Words of Relief offers a cost-effective solution for aid organizations and other humanitarian NGOs in that it creates a free corpus of open, localized, disaster-response content in under-resourced languages as well as a volunteer-driven, standing network of professional translators and interpreters that can be deployed immediately in a crisis. These resources currently do not exist. The proposed pilot builds on TWB’s existing infrastructure in East Africa, which includes a translation training centre in Nairobi that will be used to identify and train the regional Words of Relief “Captain.” Start-up costs in this stage include a locally based Project Manager; expenses related to translator training, strategic counselling, and awareness campaigns, and an impact study to gauge the model’s effectiveness.

Key Deliverables / Impact: Words of Relief will develop and test model approaches designed to 1) increase the availability of and access to vital crisis response information in Swahili, the lingua franca of the region; 2) build technological and human capacity to provide improved real-time translation support in Swahili and additional regional languages to NGOs, other humanitarian actors, and crisis-affected populations (facilitating two-way communication); 3) develop a standing network of translators in multiple East African languages that can be rapidly deployed in a crisis; and 4) establish a formal code of ethics to ensure compliance with humanitarian principles.


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