It often seems there’s always another world-saving app that promises to revolutionize the way we communicate, the way we meet, the way we consume media. Image-conscious platforms like Buzzfeed know their audiences want to be plugged in to the latest in hipster humanitarianism, so they hawk “25 Free Apps that are Making the World a Better Place”. All of this can get a little much, of course, if for no other reason than that such software tends to be aimed primarily at urban millennials, designed mainly to furnish one more piece of their carefully cultivated social-media personas.
But then sometimes there are socially-conscious apps that really do hit the mark. Like Tarjimly, which launched around February of this year and uses real-time chat software to connect refugees to volunteer translators from anywhere in the world. As Matt Petronzio explains for MashableUK, “Volunteers across the globe can register as translators through an online form, designating the two or more languages they can write and speak at a ‘colloquial level.’ The translators will then receive requests [for translations] in the form of a Facebook message.”
This is more than a clever bit of crowdsourcing. Language barriers can often sabotage refugee families caught up in the endless web of red-tape, paperwork, and bureaucratic interviews. Often humanitarian aid camps, airport detention centers, and even government immigration offices lack the on-site staff needed to translate all the various languages—like Arabic, Pashto, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu, and more—that refugees arrive in a new country speaking. And once they settle in a new country, even going to the pharmacy or doctor’s office can prove a daunting task for many refugee families.
In short, Tarjimly deserves credit for deploying the networked, plugged-in, knowledge-sharing economy to good use. Indeed, as we grow more and more interconnected, many of the normal language barriers that have tended to divide large groups of peoples will inevitably come tumbling down. Google has been working for a few years on at-site translation and transliteration software, and recent reports suggest they’re getting closer to making such programs reliable for mass markets. This trend will only continue, and as it does there’s no reason not to apply its fruits to the pressing global humanitarian crisis.