Priceless words

Translating for free! Gasp!

I know that many translators out there might balk at the idea of doing a translation “for free” in what is already a highly competitive marketplace that can all too often be driven by price not true value. But even in translation some things are priceless. Much more than Mastercard. Pro-bono translation is one of these invaluable things. It struck me the other day whilst doing some work for Translators Without Borders (TWB), yes for “free” for an NGO working to fight malnutrition in Chad in Africa, that despite our globalised, virtual and connected world there are still very real physical borders experienced by people living in Africa in particular. People who are struggling to access even the most basic needs including food, let alone quality healthcare services. Most countries in the Sahel region in Africa, experience a severe rate of overall malnutrition which was around 30% at the start of the 2000s is now around 40% (Bureau d’Appui Santé et Environnement). For me, this aspect of my work, this jolt back to another’s reality, lifts my eyes above my laptop screen in my comfortable home office to the world at large. Even though people might think that translators bridge cultures all the time in their work, the reality is that often we can fall into the trap of just translating and not reflecting on the impact of our work. Doing this kind of pro-bono work makes me realise that I can make a contribution that goes well beyond my own borders. As Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzche highlight in Found in Translation, the impact of translation goes well above and beyond world politics and global business, with an entire chapter dedicated to “Saving Lives and Protecting Rights in translation”. Like many of the things that really matter in life, it is not the price tag or the number of zeros on the invoice that counts, but the impact on human life and relationships that are truly priceless. Whilst I have only to date translated a measly 5000 words on the TWB platform, I feel blessed to have an opportunity to make an impact in countries so far away from my own and that are desperately in need of health care, infrastructure and facing food insecurity. Closer to home, I have also done some pro-bono translation work for refugees in Australia and it makes me happy that I can make a small contribution to the lives of others. I would encourage all translators out there to look beyond their own backyard and think about making a contribution to your community or a faraway country by forgetting the price tag for once and focusing on how you can give back not on how much you can get. The added bonus of doing work for TWB is that you gain valuable experience in the international development sector, so it really is win-win! priceless words