Language can be the door that keeps knowledge out, or the window that lets it in

Language is crucial to solving many of the problems faced by the world’s poorest peoples. That’s because language is necessary for people to access knowledge, and knowledge is necessary for all the advances of civilization, from improving health and increasing longevity to fostering technical advances and scientific discovery, promoting democracy, improving agricultural yields, conserving water, protecting the environment, and much more.

Knowledge can save lives, lift people out of poverty, increase economic opportunities, empower citizens and protect the environment.

Yet for most people in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, the knowledge that can do those things is locked up in a language they don’t speak. For these people, language is the door that keeps knowledge out, when what they need is a window to let it in.

More Africans now have access to a cell phone than have access to shoes or clean water. In this sobering fact, Translators without Borders sees a magnificent opportunity. Technology is giving us the chance to open a window on knowledge, and share its benefits with the people who need it the most.

Today, SMS messages are capable of delivering information to community health care workers about safe birth practices that could save the majority of the 1000 women who die each day of complications related to pregnancy, leaving behind hungry and traumatized children. SMS messages can tell parents how to recognize signs of serious illness in their children and save many of the 22,000 children who die needlessly each and every day.

The worldwide Translators without Borders community is currently donating $50,000 per month worth of free translations to humanitarian groups, and this figure is growing. However, we’re still just meeting the smallest fraction of the need. How can you help us do more?

1. Volunteer your time. We need translators, reviewers, grant researchers and grant writers, programmers, graphic artists, writers, trainers, videographers and more.

2. Help raise awareness of how important translation is to opening up access to the knowledge that can save lives and improve economic conditions for the world’s poorest. Use your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ accounts to get the word out that words matter.

3. Organize a fundraiser for Translators without Borders. Organize a fundraising dinner as the Association of Translation Companies, the ATC, is doing in London next month. Hold a bake sale. Promote a bike-a-thon. Sell your old DVDs on eBay. Every bit helps!

We are calling on the whole language industry to make translating for humanity our cause and to make sure that language is no longer a door for keeping knowledge out but a window for letting it in.