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World Social Forum: interpretation and sustainable development

Judith Hitchman, Abril 2007

One of the big challenges that always faces any Social Forum is what legacy if any and what lasting impacts will remain, follow or be enacted in terms of sustainable local development after such an event.

While many of the meetings that occur during a Social Forum – be it regional, such as the African or European Social Forum or a full-scale World Social Forum – enable global networks to develop and grow, it is notoriously difficult to measure the concrete impacts on the ground of such an event at local level.

This short article in no way purports to measure overall effects that WSF2007 in Nairobi had on sustainable local development. It merely highlights one rather interesting knock-on effect.

One of the key aspects in any Social Forum is always interpreting, as it represents a crucial aspect in any form of cross-cultural communication. In today’s global world it is often the lever that enables things to happen across borders and between communities.

In the run-up to the WSF, thanks to the excellent recruitment by the Kenyan Organising Committee’s interpreting commission, some 450 volunteer interpreters signed up for a short training course. Unlike the previous WSF events, they came from very diverse backgrounds indeed, ranging from professional interpreters and translators to university lecturers and teachers as well as members of various clergy (the various denominations in East Africa have traditionally been part of social activism). They came mainly from Kenya and Tanzania. There were also considerable numbers of political refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, who form a sizeable community in Kenya. During the Forum, there were also groups of interpreters from Senegal and Mali as well as a small group of Europeans present.

The impact of this training process – apart from developing skills for the Social Forum itself – created great interest at local level. The Ministry for Justice, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissariat for Refugees) and several NGOs have expressed their interest in funding what will hopefully become an accredited Community Interpreter Training course with a view to using some of the capacities developed.

Community interpreting is a relatively new phenomenon. It allows asylum seekers, refugees and members of minority ethnic communities to avail of interpreter services during court hearings and in all dealings with police, health and social services. At its best, it enables true representation and advocacy as well as a fair hearing. As such, in a world where there are many displaced peoples and minority ethnic communities present, it is a new profession that contributes to a more equitable form of integration. Countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom (particularly Northern Ireland) and the Republic of Ireland already have officially recognised Community Interpreters.

Therefore, if the Community Interpreting Courses currently being proposed, and for which participants are already being selected does take shape in Nairobi, it will be a small but significant legacy of the Forum that will allow the voice of these communities to be heard. It will strengthen the chances for asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya to have a fairer, more equitable representation. This is, after all, one way of encouraging the communities to integrate and contribute to a more sustainable future for themselves and their new homeland.

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The article is available on the blog: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development