Never Lost In Translation

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Two volunteer interpreters discuss the Interpreter Training materials.

Two volunteer interpreters discuss the Interpreter Training materials.

Being a stranger in a country is not easy but the hardest part is making oneself understood. This is even more true if one comes from far away, from a different culture, language and with different experiences. Many of the asylum seekers and refugees currently seeking international protection in Indonesia experience language as a challenge starting from everyday conversations with neighbors or at the market to situations where every word can be very important, like at the doctor, meeting authorities or during an interview about why they need asylum.

Friends from the refugee community often volunteer to be of support with translating in essential situations in Indonesia’s immigration detention centers or within the  community enabling asylum seekers and refugees to be heard and understood often without them having much training in how to interpret or translate in the right way.

Authorities, hospital staff, local community leaders as well as organizations serving refugees often depend on those willing to give their time to be an interpreter or translator. JRS aware of the importance of these volunteers selected some talented 16 refugees and asylum seekers from Jakarta and Cisarua to be trained in interpreting skills by an expert, Alice Johnson from the Cairo Community Interpreter Project (CCIP) at The American University in Cairo. The training was held between 10-16 June 2014 included the languages spoken by a majority of refugees and the community here, Farsi, Dari, Urdu, English and also Indonesian.

A documentation from the Interpreter Training on the definition of interpreting

A documentation from the Interpreter Training on the definition of interpreting

During the 6 day training, refugees learned not only how to expand their capacity in remembering exact words and phrases (interpreter cognitive theory and skills), practiced dialogue-based consecutive interpreting techniques in role plays and debates, reflected on professionalism,ethics and code of conduct that an interpreter is obliged to observe but also how to organize their voluntary services to make them accessible to others. Procedures and protocols are as important as a constant learning of linguistic analysis strategies, terminology research tools and glossary building.

In our daily conversations we take language for granted but as we translate experiences from another language or culture many questions may come up that can only be answered by experience, reflection and research as well as ongoing discussions and exchange between people providing the same support to others. As this was not enough helping people to tell their often sad story or conveying sad messages from community or health professionals can be emotionally challenging and needs emotional resilience for the person providing an interpretation.

After the training in June a pool of volunteers got organized to use the new learned skills to help others. They also regularly have been volunteering with some organizations such as SUAKA and JRS. In their neighborhood, they also have been helping the local community communicating with refugees or helped their neighbors when they need to go to hospital.

On Tuesday afternoon, 18 November, the former participants gathered again to reflect together on what they have learned and experienced since the training. They were very happy when they heard that JRS is providing a follow up session for the interpreters. Unfortunately, not all of them were able to come to the meeting.

Some of them surrendered themselves to detention centers as they were not able to cover their daily needs. However they are still in contact with the other volunteer interpreters as well as with JRS. They updated us that they have been helping their community when they are in communication with IOM and UNHCR.

In a fruitful meeting the interpreters shared their difficulties and experiences among each other. Now planning to meet regularly among themselves “We don’t want to let Alice down. We gained so much from the training and we want to strengthen and remind each other through the meetings. I personally feel that the training was the most memorable moment during my stay in Indonesia,” Burhan shared in meeting. Burhan, as well as the other volunteers were excited remembering the training when looking through photos of the event.

The training was not only helpful for the volunteers but also for JRS as organization. Lessons Learned for the team included :

1) people we ask to interpret for us are not interpreters as they don’t know much about techniques and ethics – we should call them people who help us to interpret.

2) In that case, service providers have to play a bigger role when working with not trained interpreters by providing basic briefings on how to interpret and confidentiality including remind them to (a) interpret every word (b) no to have side conversations –interpret everything to JRS and the asylum seeker (c) speak in first person perspective “I was” instead of ‘he said that he was’.

“The community often ask various things to interpreters, while they meant to ask the service provider organization. This kind of practice can sometimes burden the interpreters, while they are also asylum seekers and refugees themselves. Collaboration between the pool of interpreters and service provider organization such as JRS can help to fill this gap,” Gading Putra, Legal Liasion Officer of JRS said.

 Adam Severson, Interim Refugee Legal Aid Coordinator of SUAKA, mentioned, “Thank you again for arranging the interpreter training with Alice. I worked with Burhan yesterday. He was excellent. I had forgotten how much difference well-trained interpreters make.”

As the previous training on interpretation skills was appreciated by    refugees participating in it and helped many asylum seekers to communicate with local community, doctors, authorities and organisations JRS will hold another interpreter training in April 2015. New and former participants will be invited and selected to participate to further increase communication and understanding, allowing us to connect without getting lost in translation.

*Burhan is not the real name

Lars Stenger dan Gading Gumilang Putra

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