In a democratic country, we take for granted that writers have the liberty to say and write what they want to and that writing is an easy task. For those in countries where their basic liberties and freedoms – even thoughts are questioned, every word is well chosen and crafted. For the women translators who work with Ideas Beyond Borders in Afghanistan, the word ‘risk’ precludes every word choice because the very idea of translating content that questions the idea of the status quo puts their lives in jeopardy. This is so even when they are translating Wikipedia articles on subjects such as democracy, women’s rights, or science.
At IBB, we now have 80 translators and 14 of those are women. In this article, we explore the stories of some of the Afghan women translators who serve others through their words – in order to make the connection between freedom of thought, expression and speech for others who do not have it.
“I used to work as a translator with an international NGO in Kabul and as a freelance translator with an Afghan company, as did my husband. Since the Taliban took control, we have been in constant danger and at one point had to shelter in a safe place. As our neighbors told me later, the Taliban searched our house, looking for people who worked with international organizations and especially interpreters.They called everyone they thought had contact with the USA, in order to find us.
Within two months of the Taliban takeover, we had spent all our savings and were trying to find jobs. It was not easy. Not only are women not allowed to work, but we also can’t even go downtown alone. Making a living is now impossible for men as well, due to the large number of people losing their jobs. Our lives were getting worse day by day: the fear, the joblessness, the Taliban regime, the feeling of insecurity.
Then, one day my husband got a call, and we were offered jobs working for Ideas Beyond Borders. I couldn’t believe it! I thought we were forgotten by everyone. They told us we would be working on the House of Wisdom 2.0 project.
“My professional career started with the Kakar History Foundation. My dream was to work for my own native country and language to help spread knowledge, but due to the recent collapse of the Afghan government, everything changed and I felt my dream was destroyed.My work with IBB has given me hope. My promise to my beloved country and my people is that because of Bayt al Hikma 2.0, I will continue to work for them even now, in this very difficult situation.”
“TheHouse of Wisdom 2.0 project will help Afghanshave access to a variety of information in a language they can understand.I’m so glad to be employed as part of this projectas Afghans have limited access to information online. This will help our people get the most out of Wikipedia.”
“I lost my job, and the Taliban saw me as a person who should bepunishedfor working with International staff (infidels, by their interpretation). Therefore, I’m afraid of applying for any Government vacancy. Thankfully being employed by the HoW 2.0 program now allows me toprovide for my family.”
“In recent months, the government of Afghanistan has collapsed, causing all the government officials, including me, tolose jobsand face serious financial problems. Thanks to being employed by HoW2.0, I have astable income again.”
On behalf of the IBB family, we are honored to raise our women translators up by helping them provide for their families and regain control of their futures, whether they ultimately leave or stay in Afghanistan.