Pro Bono Translation - a Privilege to Make a Difference

Following the bird flu, the SARS, the swine flu and Ebola outbreaks, the 21st century is currently seeing its 5th pandemic. Pandemics in modern times raise new challenges associated with global air travel and internet. Vulnerable people are stranded in foreign countries unable to access information in their own language, people with limited English are targeted by internet scammers exploiting their fear and anxiety, and people with mental health issues are struggling to cope and understand the threat of the coronavirus. Often those people cannot communicate effectively and need help to be able to access information and advice available.
As a profession, we have been working hard to raise awareness and appreciation for our translation and interpreting services. At the end of 2019 we even had a special hashtag on social media #IMadeADifference stressing the importance and value of the work that we do.
Since the pandemic broke out, I have noticed an increase in demand for free translation services. Translators Without Borders, National Health Service and local charities all need translation to assist vulnerable people with their communication needs. These usually come to me through voluntary platforms or email. In the meantime, my Twitter timeline is filled with offers and invitations to various training and networking events; there are plenty of linguist lunches, coffee mornings, webinars and online conferences and my colleagues are all buzzing about them. I appreciate their value. Many of us have less work at the moment and if we have any free time, it makes sense to use it effectively. However, the current situation is also creating a great opportunity to prove the value of our services. Would it not be better to actually “Make a Difference” right now? You can still practise and hone your skills while translating for free, acquire new terminology, research new areas, discover new fields of specialism you may want to develop in the future, collaborate with others, gain feedback from proof-readers, make new contacts - the benefits of pro bono work are endless.
I don’t have more spare time than anybody else. I'm still working on ongoing projects for my regular clients, I have two children home-schooling and a husband working from home. With the little extra time I have I want to make a difference to those who can benefit from my skills, and to benefit our profession by demonstrating how valuable our services are, how important effective communication and universal understanding are at the time of global pandemic. Over the last few weeks I volunteered to translate a discharge information for Covid-19 patients stranded in foreign countries, a leaflet for dementia patients facing Covid-19 explaining coping strategies for them, and warnings regarding criminal, coronavirus related scams targeting people with limited English.
We are privileged to be able to volunteer without having to leave our homes and risk our families’ health and lives. We can volunteer our time and skill, making a real difference without the risk and sacrifice other volunteers face. Our work can benefit others, individual translators and our profession as a whole. I’m grateful for the job I can do and hope that I can inspire more translators do give 1-2 hours per week to voluntary projects. 


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