Interpretation at the Kenya WSF 2007 by Thomas Christiansen

January 2007: Discussions sur le FSM à Nairobi - Discussions on the WSF in Nairobi (Kenya)
judith hitchman
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Interpretation at the Kenya WSF 2007 by Thomas Christiansen

Postby judith hitchman » Mon May 21, 2007 8:25 pm

1-1-1 Interpretation and equipment

It had been expected that, in keeping with the WSF tradition, interpretation would be done by the Babels – a network of volunteer interpreters – as the core interpretation group. The organizers of WSF2007 in Nairobi had sent three local interpreters to the WSF2006 Polycentric in Bamako – to take an active part in the process and to learn from the experienced organizers of interpretation. This group was meant to form the core Kenyan section of Babels – and then return to Kenya and spearhead the process of mobilizing interpreters, start training sessions of these and also organize for the actual planning of interpretation for WSF2007.

During the July-August consultations in Nairobi, the Babels, through a representative of ALIS (ALternative Interpretation Systems), gave four (4) conditionalties to be met in order for them to provide interpretation for WSF 2007 in Nairobi. These included:

• That the Secretariat provides them with US$ 1.2 million for mobilization.
• That the Secretariat provides them with a fully functional office.
• That the Secretariat hires 3 full time Babels staff.
• That the money be made available before mid-August.

As the Secretariat had not mobilized any resources then and also given that no such demands had been made to previous organizers of the WSF, the
Secretariat was ill prepared to deal with the entailed challenges. After nearly three months of internal debate within the Babel fraternity of which neither the Organizing Committee nor the Secretariat was included in the list serve facilitating the debate, the Babels publicly announced that they were not going to provide interpretation services to the Nairobi event. The Secretariat then had to embark on exploring the alternatives to Babels in October 2006.

In response to the above challenges the Secretariat assigned one person to the Coordinator of matters pertaining to interpretation and allied activities. Subsequently a team – an Interpretation Committee – was set up to support the effort.

In the course of November and December a few members of the Babels network did get involved – not as an official Babels project, but rather as individual interpreters. They assisted with part of the planning process, the training of the less experienced local interpreters as well as the overall organization before and during the event.

The main challenge during the planning of the interpretation was two fold: first of all, it was important to define the number of interpreters that would be needed during the event and, second, it was important to determine how and from where to recruit them. Additional challenges touched on implications for the budget, the equipments to be used, training, and the political inclination of the prospective interpreters. The Organizing Committee made a political decision and agreed to give priority to recruit interpreters in East Africa, then the rest of Africa and finally the rest of the world.

The budget considerations dictated, the Secretariat purchased 150 transmitters from ALIS in Athens, Greece to equip about 30 rooms for interpretation giving priority to co-organized activities and the rooms with larger audiences. It was planned that the equipment and a technical person would be available by mid December 2006, in good time to start training of a local ALIS-Kenya team and to have sufficient time to install the equipment at the venue.

The technician did arrive in the middle of December but the equipment only arrived on January 18, two days before the event. The equipment was paid for in early November but it did not leave Athens until mid December. The late shipment of the equipment was due to delays by ALIS and subsequent long strike by port workers in Greece. Eventually, the equipment came without the promised booths, leading the Secretariat to act quickly and have booths manufactured.

An allowance of KSh 2,000 (US$ 30) was set for each day of work per interpreter, also each of them would get KSh 4,000 (US$ 55) for daily accommodation and meals and KSh.1,000 (US$ 15) for daily transport, making a total of KSh 7,000 (or US$ 100) for non-accommodated interpreters and KSh. 2,000 daily for those accommodated by the Secretariat. This caused some resentment as it was seen to favour locally based interpreters over their international colleagues.

1-2 Interpretation

Organising the interpretation during the Forum faced many challenges. The biggest problem was of a technical nature – in some tents, the electrical connections were not ready; in some rooms, the PA systems did not work; and above all, the FM radio receivers purchased by the Secretariat to be used by the participants did not work – as they could not stay tuned on the chosen frequency; the model brought by the company was not the one ordered and were delivered only one day before the event.

Other problems had to do with the actual planning of the interpretation. The booth planning – scheduling where and when each interpreter was to work – was a more time consuming task than anticipated. The group organising the interpretation never managed to plan more than half a day in advance, which resulted in people not knowing well in advance when they were working.

These difficult circumstances, specifically the technical shortcomings of the equipment, resulted in a serious quality loss, as simultaneous interpretation from the booth were made very difficult.

Shifting to whispering and consecutive interpretation was done in many places, and with great efforts put in by the majority of the interpreters. However, some of the less experienced volunteer interpreters did find adjusting to this improvised situation difficult and this played a central role in the almost complete collapse of the interpretation system.

Another major challenge concerning interpretation during the event was the level of the per diem. Paying a daily rate of about US$ 100 for this kind of ‘volunteer work’ proved to cause problems, as it seemed as if a great number of people were more focussed on receiving their ‘payment’ and less on doing interpretation and contributing to the process. This, combined with not having clear modalities of how and when per diems were to be paid out, took a lot of focus of the organisers during the event.

In an early report from the Babels network about WSF2007 (before they withdrew from the process) the number of interpreters needed during the event was estimated at around 450 interpreters to cover 150 booths.

During the Forum we had a total of 432 local interpreters – 129 interpreters only worked on the two first days. Added to this number was a group of 59 international interpreters – the combined number of volunteers with own funding and groups that the Secretariat brought in from Europe and West Africa. 10 interpreters from Mali only worked on the last two days of the Forum – and some of the volunteers from Tanzania and South Africa had to leave on the second and third day.

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