I never thought I would end up with a career in the humanitarian sector, yet here I am, working as an interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Niger. It’s a complex and challenging environment, but also deeply gratifying.
No two weeks are the same. I was never an office person, so getting out and speaking to people, hearing their stories, writing them up and then seeing the impact we have on people’s lives is a really important part of the job for me.
As a Hausa interpreter, the role predominately revolves around accompanying ICRC colleagues during detention visits. The ICRC visits people in places of detention across the world, ensuring that they’re being treated with dignity.
My role is to act as an interpreter between detainees and our staff. The visits are confidential and we share our findings with the authorities. As an interpreter, I have the opportunity to learn from everyone around me, which is a great way to build up my knowledge and experience.
Some of the places we visit don’t offer communication facilities to detainees, so we help to facilitate contact between those detained and their loved ones. It could be a simple phone call, a Red Cross message or sometimes we offer financial support so people can visit loved ones in the prison.
There have been occasions where we’ve called a family who haven’t heard from their relative in several years. That moment when they discover the whereabouts of a loved one is a really special part of the job.
It’s not all easy however. I arrived here in February this year. It’s not easy to uproot yourself from the life you’ve built at home; leaving your friends and family behind is especially hard. This is the burden of the job. Having said that, the work really brings you closer to your colleagues and they quickly become your second family and a home away from home.
While I got training before I took up the post, the only way to learn really is by doing, and getting stuck into the job. I would say the same when it comes to learning languages. I actually grew up in Niger, in a town called Zinder, so I had a pretty good grasp of Hausa from an early age. My parents are Scottish and Dutch, so growing up in a multilingual environment meant I quickly developed an ear for languages.
I studied Swahili and Development Studies at SOAS (2011-2015), which helped to develop my fluency in Swahili while also giving me a firm grounding in global economics and politics in the developing world. I spent time in Zanzibar and Kenya as part of my degree, which was hugely beneficial. To anyone learning a language, I’d say this is the best way to learn! Get out there, speak to people and really immerse yourself in the language – no book or classroom will help you in the same way.
While I was already able to speak several languages, my degree at SOAS gave me the qualifications and recognition I needed to really launch myself into this career. It was through my studies that I first encountered the ICRC, so undoubtedly the university has played a huge part in helping me get my first mission with this organisation.
Kai Vogt is an interpreter with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Niger. The ICRC recruits interpreters in more than 20 languages. To learn more about job opportunities please visit the ICRC Careers pages or contact Sophie Da Silva for more information on firstname.lastname@example.org.