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Queen’s volunteer translator: ‘I’m helping from home during lockdown’

Queen’s PhD student Nermin Al Sharman from Jordan is volunteering as a translator during the pandemic, helping the Arabic speaking community in Belfast.

As soon as the lockdown began, Queen’s PhD student Nermin Al Sharman, 27, knew that her skills as a translator put her in a unique position to help the community.

“I reached out to some of the locals in Belfast to offer my help,” she says. “Originally, I wanted to volunteer as an on-call interpreter to help healthcare providers and patients in hospitals or health centres. Unfortunately, as I’m not a medical or nursing student and I’m not a pharmacist, I couldn’t help alongside the healthcare providers. However, as a translator I can still help and make a difference by translating material related to the pandemic,” she says.

Nermin Al Sharman, PhD student

And Nermin soon discovered she wasn’t alone in wanting to help.

Other people wanted to help as well, so a Covid-19 community response WhatsApp group and Facebook page covering Belfast/Greater Belfast was created. Knowing that I’m bilingual and that I’m a translator, one of the WhatsApp group members told me that they might need my help translating from English to Arabic and that’s how I got involved.”

‘I felt helpless – and didn’t like it’

Nermin is not new to volunteering – she’s been involved in volunteering since she was an undergraduate and is particularly passionate about helping cancer patients.

“Helping others means a lot to me, it makes me happy and gives me self-satisfaction. I’m very passionate about helping cancer patients and I was doing a lot before lockdown. I’m an event volunteer and Cancer Focus NI community ambassador and also a Handy Helper volunteer,” says Nermin.

While much of Nermin’s regular volunteer work has been put on hold, she is still determined to make a difference, despite current restrictions.

“[Before lockdown] I had the chance to make a bigger difference and help physically, but now most of my voluntary work is digital. I do miss volunteering and helping with events but at least I’m trying to help while staying at home,” she says.

Adding: Because of the lockdown, a lot of the events I was supposed to help with were either cancelled or postponed. I was no longer able to help or volunteer. It broke my heart that while we are stuck at home, frontline and key workers are out there fighting this. I felt so helpless and I didn’t like.”

Hand with a pen writing

Making a positive contribution

Despite the lockdown, Nermin is keeping busy: her new volunteering role involves English Arabic translation, she has also started a Facebook Group called Touch Base.

“Volunteering has been always a big part of my life and because of the lockdown I was deprived the chance to go out there and help. So, volunteering and helping during this hard time makes me feel like I’m still actively involved and that I’m positively contributing to the community,” she says.

The major difference is that Nermin is now volunteering from the comfort and safety of her own home.  “I don’t really have shifts; members of the Covid-19 response group contact me and send me the material they would like me to translate and I translate it and send it back to them.”

As an international student, the experience has been a learning curve for Nermin, she admits.

“There are many terms used in the UK and Northern Ireland that I’m not familiar with, so this gives me the opportunity to learn new terms and improve my translation skills.”

“The challenge is finding a balance between the different responsibilities I have. As I’m also spending time on my campaign to buy medical equipment for refugees and cancer patients in need.

Volunteering in general gives you a sense of accomplishment but the most rewarding aspect about this voluntary work is that I feel like I have contributed during this pandemic; that I did something to help.”