After watching the Frontline episode I contacted the office, which was just a few staff members at the time, wondering if they could use some help. Kiva is located in San Francisco, about 11 (hilly) blocks from where I live. Naomi, who is now the Senior Director of Global Partner Operations  and was the first staff member involved in Review and Translations of loans, got back to me and at once asked me if I could translate from French to English. I had no previous experience except for the fact that I was born and raised in France and had lived in the US for 20 years. Kiva needed help and after the Oprah show so many people were interested in lending that there was an increased need for translators. Babelfish just was not cutting it!
Now there are much stricter requirements for translators, and the process has since become a lot more selective! Kiva currently has Volunteer Translators trained to translate borrower profiles from French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Kiva Field Partners that do not use one of these languages submit borrower profiles in English, and each of these is gently edited by one of Kiva’s Volunteer Editors. Together, there are over 300 of us Volunteer Editors and Translators.
I am part of Team Baobab, one of Kiva’s French translation teams. We are a group of 23 translators disseminated throughout the world. Last year I became a Team Leader. A Volunteer Team Leader’s mission is to keep each translator up to date with Kiva news and policies. They strive to motivate their team members and help them feel connected to each other and to Kiva’s core mission.
Translators and editors are normally the last people to see a loan before it goes live on the Kiva.org web site. We log on to Viva, Kiva’s volunteer assignment management system, and immediately see how many loans are waiting to be reviewed or translated. We pick how many loans we are able to review in the time we have available and forge on. We translate and we check names, location, primary activity category, and loan use, and ensure the description is accurate. We also look at the photo and make certain the borrower is recognizable or that the group is well represented. Then we push the magic “Submit” button. Voilà, live on Kiva.org !
Sometimes we run into terms we have never seen before, obscure words or terms only used locally. We may have policy questions. Thankfully we can call on one another through the on-line Kiva Volunteer Forum. You post a question and you often get a response within an hour or less. The beauty of the editor and translator community is that someone in the world is always awake and someone knows the answer or will help you look for it. We have had lengthy debates about “mèches”, “tissages” and “greffages”—all terms related to different hair styling! We had spirited policy discussions pondering our need to be culturally sensitive while meeting Kiva’s guidelines; is it acceptable for a man to be photographed in place of his wife? If a photo of woman wearing a burqua is all we have is that enough?
Most of the time I translate on my laptop sitting in my kitchen where the light is brighter and I can look outside at the yard. I have also translated in Mexico 15 feet from the beach, in Hawaii in a quiet B & B on my 50th birthday, and in France surrounded by my family. Less exotic but very stimulating places include the Kiva office. Wherever I go, Kiva follows me!
You may wonder what keeps us coming back for more loans to review. Here are a few quotes from my fellow editors and translators:
- A bit of instant good karma
- A mini-trip somewhere else unexpected in the world. Where can I explore next?
- Developing new knowledge. Researching terms, recipes, customs, and micro-finance lingo.
- The borrower’s stories, the hardships and the funny ones. They highlight our common humanity.
- Being part of a group that shares linguistic and altruistic interests.
- Procrastination: reviewing a loan is a good excuse to put off things you’d rather not do; you’re still being productive!