Importance of Language

Visit to Ritsona Refugee Camp, Greece

Lydia Bassaly, Head of Recruitment and Translation/Interpretation Services.


“At first they were confused by the Egyptian dialect, but it didn’t take long till their smiles grew as they realized I was their avenue to the staff.”

After a visit to Ritsona Refugee Camp in mainland Greece, I realized the important role language plays in creating ease and communication between refugees and humanitarian workers.

I was invited to the site by Lighthouse Relief, a group of volunteers who aim to provide immediate relief to those arriving in Greece, with a special focus on the youth. Once I arrived, I met with the Program Manager of Lighthouse’s Youth Engagement Space (YES), a program that creates space for workshops and creativity among youth in Rtisona. Through my visit, I learned that children 12 and older weren’t able to attend school, which led to a real need for the space created by the YES program.

While walking through the camp,I began using my Arabic to communicate with the youth and kids. At first they were confused by the Egyptian dialect, but it didn’t take long till their smiles grew as they realized I was their avenue to the staff. “Could you please ask her if I can play with the guitar now?”, “can you ask her when I can bring my older brother?”, “can you ask what time the games will start?” There I was bombarded with questions, translating to the staff and back to the kids.

I didn’t expect my visit to bring a benefit in such a short time, but given that most of the staff at the site were Greek, American, Canadian, etc, none of them spoke Arabic fluently. I couldn’t begin to imagine how day-to-day operations took place with the little Arabic or little English either group knew. One of the many thoughts on mind while leaving was “what would it look like if the humanitarian workers, staff, and volunteers knew enough Arabic to make life just a little easier, just a little more comfortable, just a little more familiar to those they’re with everyday?”

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