British Columbia

Syrian crisis: Canadian woman talks to refugees using translations from social media

Many of the refugees arriving in Greece don't speak English, which can be a challenge for Canadian volunteers such as Rory Richards. That's why reached out on social media to get translations of key phrases in Farsi, Arabic, Urdu and Dari.

Rory Richards says she was confident she would find translators among Canadians

Rory Richards, a Canadian volunteer in Lesbos, with one of the babies who came as refugees to Greece from Syria. (Facebook)

Before arriving in Canada, many refugees fleeing Syria will have crossed over to the Greek island of Lesbos. They often arrive with only the clothes on their backs, and they are greeted by volunteers from around the world.

Many don't speak English, which can be a challenge for Canadian volunteers such as Rory Richards. 

That's why the Vancouver publicist reached out to her Canadian network back home on Facebook to get audio translations of key phrases in Farsi, Urdu, Dari and Arabic. 

Phrases as basic as:

"You are in Greece on an Island called Lesbos. You are safe. We are volunteers here to help you."

"Are you hurt? Are you hungry? Please tell us now (in the car) and we will try and help you."

"Please keep the blanket we gave you, and also your wet clothes and shoes. There is a shortage of blankets and clothes in all the camps."

Richards says she doesn't have the time to learn four new languages and the need is too pressing.

"But Canada is such a diverse, multicultural country that I knew we would be able to find someone who spoke those languages and translate for us." 

Within hours of posting to Facebook, Richards had her translations. She says she will play the recordings on her smartphone as she meets the refugees.

Fundraising for refugees

Richards has been raising money for the refugees she is helping in Greece, and she called the campaign "Because."

"When I was thinking what I'd name this, 'because' was the word, because it's right ... because I can, because they need, because God forbid we be in the same situation," she told CBC before she left on Nov. 27.

"I think it's fair to say the noses were a hit with the kids at the Moria refugee camp," Richards said on Facebook. (Rory Richards)

The money she raises will, she says, be handed out to non-profits working directly with the refugees arriving on the beach in Greece.

Richards also carried with her dozens of pairs of socks, a couple hundred toothbrushes, toiletries and ... clown noses. Because why not? 

"I think it's fair to say the noses were a hit with the kids at the Moria refugee camp. Their energy shifted from suspicious, to curious, to giggling uncontrollably," she said on Facebook. 

"It was great to see the expressions of their mothers soften as soon as they saw their child laughing. You can feel the stress and responsibility these women are carrying. It is palpable.

"They have long and uncertain journeys ahead of them. Not all of them will end well. This will be one of several camps they will live in for an undetermined period of time, and thousands will be sent back to their countries of origin. But just for a moment, to laugh."

Richards says the work has been hard and rewarding. 

One night, dinner was interrupted when a refugee boat came in carrying hypothermic women and children. 

"You try not to think about the conditions of the camp, or the fact that the family you just dropped there in still wet clothes will have to sleep in a bare, communal tent with only one blanket per family," she wrote in another Facebook post. 

"You can't think about that now, because there is nothing you can do about it, and there are more refugees coming in that are at risk and need your help. You need to get back to the beach."

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