A Facebook Messenger bot helps refugees translate their needs
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Photo credit: Tarjimly

Photo credit: Tarjimly

Tarjimly is like the Google Translate for refugees

Atif Javed was inspired by the feeling of helplessness that he and so many of his friends felt about the ongoing refugee crisis, and was compelled to do something about it. He had heard stories about refugee camps where parents couldn’t communicate with medical staff and where newborns weren’t getting the treatment they needed because of language barriers.

So he co-founded and recently launched Tarjimly, a Facebook Messenger bot that crowd-sources translators to help immigrants and refugees affected by Trump’s executive order restraining travel from seven countries that are primarily Muslim. 

If a refugee needs help communicating or translating document, the bot connects them anonymously to an available translator anywhere in the world via text, audio notes or video. Tarjimly alerts translators of a request routed to fit them specifically. If they are available, the connection is instantly made for them to enter a secure, anonymous conversation and refugees can choose what they want to share and rate their sessions at the end. The only thing that is shared is the translator’s first name and they agree to best safety practices. It’s up to the participants to share whatever they like so the platform is completely safe. If there is critical interest, then the founders plan on adding a feature for contact information.

Atij tells Geektime, “As Muslim-Americans, the Muslim Ban really hit home and we knew we had to deliver this product when we saw so many calls for translators for airport detainees on social media.” He didn’t want to be just another techie in the Silicon Valley bubble; he wanted to find a way to mobilize others to help solve a truly important problem.

In just 24 hours of launching, they received almost 1,000 translator signups speaking Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Pashto, French, and Urdu. The translators are vetted through self-reported proficiency levels as well as evaluations after each session. There is also testing and scoring of new translators with each demo that delivers an objective baseline. If for some reason there is frustration between the members of the conversation, then they can end the session, and be pinged to another person immediately. There are also plans to add more languages as volunteers sign up. For millions who struggle to communicate with aid workers, medical staff, legal reps, and airport detainees where language barriers are a massive blocker, this is a huge boon.

Tarjimly’s goals are to impact thousands of refugees and humanitarian workers by giving them translators in their pockets. They are targeting 10,000 sessions in the next few months and want to add features that make the experience rich and effortless. Atij says, “We’re trying to partner with a few small organizations for our controlled release in the next few weeks followed by general release to our more than 1,400 translators.” In the very long term, they are imagining using this technology to route anyone in need of an instant service (like translation), potentially as future product offerings. But the Messenger platform needs to develop more before this farther goal can be achieved. 

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Supriya Venkatesan

About Supriya Venkatesan


Writer for hire. bylines @washingtonpost, huffpost, time, forbes, qz and others @USArmy Vet @Columbia Alumn. Mom & wife. Made in Fiji. Freestyling life #binders

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  • [anonymous]

    It’s not the article-writer’s fault since he was just quoting Atij, but people really need to stop calling this a “Muslim Ban” just because the seven countries on the list are predominantly Muslim. Perhaps if it banned travel to and from EVERY Muslim-majority nation, the motives could seem anti-Muslim, but that’s not the case here. They’re just seven countries that were put on a terrorist watchlist based on past events, nothing to do with religion.