For the better part of my life, I’ve been almost giving.
When I was at university, I took a training course to be able to work on a crisis line, but I was too busy with my studies to do even one shift.
When my best friend died I joined the organization she supported, Big Sisters, but before they could assign me a Little Sister, I dropped out.
When I moved to Paris, I bought a tape recorder so I could read on tape for the blind, but I didn’t get so far as choosing a single book.
This checkered past of not giving would probably have continued into the present if it weren’t for a chance encounter with Doctors without Borders (Medecins sans frontières) in 1993. They asked my translation company, Lexcelera (then known as Eurotexte), to quote on a project they had. I love the work they do, and it occurred to me that if we did the work for free it would be like we were making a donation. My partner Ros Smith-Thomas agreed, and Translators without Borders was born.
Since then volunteer translators around the world have donated more than 2 million dollars worth of translations to NGOs like Doctors without Borders, Action Against Hunger, Ashoka, Handicap International. and more
But lately I’ve been feeling that I’m almost giving – again. Because the truth is, it’s the translators who are doing the giving. Our organization facilitates the generosity of these translators, and I certainly spend a lot of time working on Translators without Borders myself, but because I’m not actually translating those humanitarian texts, my giving doesn’t feel that hands on.
When I went to Kenya I saw giving in another light, as a way that you can live your life rather than something to do if you have time. I met village women who lived with their families in one or two rooms, with dirt floors, and mattresses to sleep on if they were lucky. And these women were working on micro-financed projects such as weaving baskets, tie-dying cloth and growing market gardens to make extra money to take care of the AIDS orphans in their community – to buy school uniforms and pay school fees, to bring food and clothing into child-led households.
These women are showing me that almost giving is not the same thing as giving.