Wanted: Kiswahili Translators

The former executive director of Unicef once said that 80% of the children who die every day in Africa are dying for lack of knowledge.

Vital health information – in English only

I would sadly concur with his statement. It broke my heart to see what difficulty rural Kenyans had in understanding the healthcare information that was available to them.

Excellent health information, adapted to local conditions exists. In every village dispensary and clinic I visited, I saw posters and publications that dealt with local problems such as malnutrition and malaria, AIDS and sleeping sickness.

Unfortunately, this information is available only in English.

It’s true that English is one of the official languages of Kenya, but in the remote villages that need this critial health information the most, very little English is spoken.

Even the community health care workers, who receive their training in English, and rely on manuals in English, are very challenged in what is probably their third language, after their tribal language and the lingua franca: Kiswahili.

No local language versions were in evidence

Misinformation abounds in Africa. I heard tell of a community which received mosquito nets recently, but a month later the aid workers came back to see that no one had used them. Why? Their response was that everyone knows cold milk gives children malaria, so rather than put up the nets they were boiling the hell out of their milk.

The biggest obstacles to having critical health, scientific, technical and educational information available in local language translations are:

  • a trained pool of local language translators
  • availability and affordability of translation tools
  • access to computers and the internet

These are big issues to be sure, but they can be solved. Some of them are being solved as we speak: Google has a program called O3B, for the Other 3 Billion, that is going to increase affordable internet connectivity in countries like Kenya starting next year.

Translators without Borders is moving ahead on some other solutions for training translators and making computers available to them. But we need your help.  Please join us!