(Not) Lost in Translation

Visiting our programs in the field can sometimes get comical. This past week, I have been in China with our partner, the Amity Foundation.  A few days ago, I was at the home of Mang Bin, one of the participants in a women’s association income generation project, hoping to learn more about the impact of our project activities on her family of six. 
I would ask a question in English, which would then be translated by my Amity colleague into Mandarin, only to be further translated by the local project staff into the Dai minority language and posed to the community leader — who would then finally ask Mang Bin my question in the local dialect.  And then the response would be translated three times back to me.  Even the simplest of questions would take about eight minutes to get through.
The income generation work is part of an HIV/AIDS Community Development project in Zhangfeng township, in the border region of Yunnan province — one of two programs that Episcopal Relief & Development supports in China. The second is a Renewable Energy Environmental Protection project in Yushu prefecture, on the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai province.

Be it speaking with our friends in Yunnan or Qinghai, a conversation translated several times over can sometimes lose its intended meaning.  But there is more to understanding the impact of a program than just words. 

I observed the cohesion among Mang Bin and the other women’s association members in their efforts to identify the most vulnerable among them to participate in a micro loan program. I appreciated the scent of drying rice in a paddy, the result of a healthy harvest as farmers used improved techniques they learned through our program. And I enjoyed the excitement of elementary school students as they expressed their success at convincing their parents to dispose of household waste in a manner more suitable to protecting their natural environment.

These sentiments could never be lost in translation. 


Nagulan Nesiah is a Program Officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.

Photo: Mang Bin is a member of a women’s association income generation project in Yunnan province facilitated by the Amity Foundation.