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Translators without Borders: words for a good cause

I would advise any aspiring translator to “practice, practice, practice.” Read, and keep learning: we cannot and should not translate what we do not understand.

Gladis Audi‘s interest in humanitarian work was sparked at a young age. In an interview with SwissGlobal, she shares how she got involved with Translators without Borders and why she is not resting on her laurels, even after donating over 1,000,000 words to those in need.

Gladis, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your upbringing and how this may have shaped your path to becoming a translator?

I grew up in war-torn Beirut, snipers, bombs, regular trips to the shelter, which basically was the basement of the building where I lived and where you could stay up to a week or two. It was a time of terror and pain. In those days, Beirut was very dependent on humanitarian aid (food and medicine, mostly). My family was very involved in humanitarian work, and I would tag along. My father worked with Lebanon Aid, negotiating the release of hostages, and running a few mobile clinics. My mother did community work, mostly aimed at elderly homes and orphanages, trying to secure fuel, medicine, and milk.

Later, in 2000, I joined the Lions International Organization to volunteer and give back to the community. As a member of the Lions organization, I chaired several committees, including the anti-hunger committee and the peace poster committee, presenting the first Convention internationale des Lions francophones as well as the Lions’ Day with the UN.

Still, I felt I could do more, give more. So, I took courses in humanitarian communication, health in complex emergencies, humanitarian law, international organizations management, human rights, gender issues, displacement issues, the SDGs (a great course given by Ban Ki-moon), epidemics and communicable diseases, I joined Translators without Borders, and I truly believe it was one of the best decisions I have made.

Being a senior reviser and quality reviewer for TWB makes me happy and has broadened my horizons and my skills. By allowing me to reach millions of people in need, to make a change in their lives by making information available in the language they understand, it has also enriched me spiritually.

When did you get involved with TWB and what was your motivation behind it?

I joined TWB in 2014. Why? Because I could and, call me a dreamer, because I believe that together we can bring about the change. I already had experience translating treaties, UN manuals, and ECOSOC documents.

One of the things I remember most is how anxiously I waited for my TWB test results! And when I got accepted, it felt amazing to be part of this force for the greater good.

To me, it is a matter of principle, and duty. It is an ethical obligation. My way of standing up for those in need, standing up against inequality, against injustice, against poverty and hunger. I feel it is our duty, in a world that is suffering, to tackle gender, social, structural, wealth, health inequalities. It is our duty to act. Each one of us can help bring about change, lessen the suffering, the injustice, spread vital information and empower those who need it the most.

You’ve recently reached a work milestone: 1,000,000 words donated to TWB! Could you explain what some of the projects were that you were working on? What were these documents for and why are their translations so important?

Yes, I have donated 1,000,000 words, but there is yet so much to do and I will keep on donating.

With TWB, I have worked on hundreds (maybe thousands) of interesting and exciting projects; the UNDAC Field Handbook I was tasked with revising is just one of them. I love working on OCHA and WHO content mostly. But I am also passionate about safeguarding, girl education, and migration/displacement content.

Every document we translate, at TWB, has incredible value. Be it to measure human rights, help women understand child malnutrition and learn how to breastfeed, help contingents in the field have accessible guidelines they can follow to stay safe and coordinate better, help people in crisis access the information they need and contribute to the decision-making process, guarantee the rights of marginalized populations, or stop the spread of this pandemic but also of numerous other diseases.

Do you have any advice you would give aspiring translators in general? And for those who want to get involved with TWB?

I would advise any aspiring translator to “practice, practice, practice.” Read, and keep learning: we cannot and should not translate what we do not understand. For those who want to get involved with TWB, I’d recommend learning about current issues, humanitarian law, human rights, contagious diseases, poverty, inequality, gender issues, climate issues, disaster preparedness and response, hunger, migration and displacement, the humanitarian principles.

There are over 100 million people globally who would not be able to survive if it weren’t for humanitarian aid. If you are unsure of your skills, or if you think you wouldn’t know how to translate humanitarian documents, you can still apply and TWB will support you and provide the necessary training. Once you are a TWB translator, you will also get access to the TWB community forum to post a question and exchange information with your fellow translators. By joining our community, you will be helping to save lives, raise awareness, and bring justice to the world.

And my personal message to aspiring TWB translators is: do not retreat into a passive wait-and-see attitude and expect others to step in and do the job. TWB needs you, those who are hurting the most need you. Be the change.

Why do you think language services providers have a social responsibility to support TWB?

I do think it is a social responsibility, let me tell you why.

TWB, now part of CLEAR Global, is a global community of over 80,000 linguists, language enthusiasts, and mission-driven professionals helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. By supporting TWB, LSPs can help create a more just and inclusive world through language.

The work TWB does reaches all spheres of life and helps millions of people living through crises and marginalisation due to language barriers. If it weren’t for TWB, many humanitarians and other organizations wouldn’t have been able to communicate with the world’s most vulnerable people. Those populations’ needs and concerns sometimes go unaddressed, and their participation in global conversations is hindered by a lack of access to information and two-way communication. That’s what the TWB community and CLEAR Global are here to change. With more and more focus on corporate social responsibility, global good, and sustainability, investing in TWB seems to encompass it all, especially for an LSP. If one really cares about their work, and has the ability and power to use it for the benefit of the entire world, especially of those in need, why not support TWB?

Language is important for our individual wellbeing and for economic activity. But in some contexts, the right language can also be the difference between life or death. Today more than ever, the world NEEDS to bridge the language divide. If we truly believe in the right of human beings to “live in dignity and freedom and to enjoy the fruits of social progress”, we have to take it upon ourselves to act towards those goals.

Shaping a better world starts by self-giving. Hand in hand, by giving just a little bit each day, or even each week, each month, we can, as the TWB community, contribute to removing the obstacles to language and information which hinder the achievements of these higher goals and which encourage exploitation and inequalities of men, of races. By making information accessible in every language, we help raise awareness and spread knowledge about human rights and fundamental freedoms, about diseases and how they are propagated, and we help eradicate prejudices and misconceptions.


Gladis Audi is a chartered linguist and volunteer translator for Translators without Borders. She was born and raised in Beirut and now lives in Maastricht with her daughter.