CAMP TONDIBIAH, Niger - A medical humanitarian mission can have all the doctors and medicines in the world, but the mission will be hard served to be a success in a foreign country if you don't have a good set of translators.
This statement held true for a group of Air Force Reserve medical team members who were able to treat more than 6,000 patients in the African nation of Niger.
The team deployed here along with a group of Marines that were part of the Trans Sahel Counter Terrorism Initiative Mobile Training Team, who are training a group of Nigerien soldiers in basic infantry.
Although Niger's official language is French, the group quickly found out that the majority of their patients spoke Zarma, Housa or other regional dialects. This would require translators with a broad knowledge of all the languages in the area.
For the doctors, this service is priceless. "It would be practically impossible to do any type of quality care without them," said Maj. (Dr.) Keith Schlechte, a physician with the 85th Surgeon General, Keflavik, Iceland. "Their service is invaluable."
The same could be said from the translators who were able to get an opportunity to practice and expand their English vocabulary. For many, it was their first time to work with Americans.
"It's been very marvelous," said Moussa Tankari, one of the seven civilian translators. "It's the first time I've worked with an American doctor and the population in such a direct way. It's something that's benefiting the population and the translators. We are discovering new things and my lexis is getting wider and wider, which is good for a teacher."
For Mr. Tankari, who is working with optometry, getting to witness people's lives being improved on a daily basis is gratifying.
"I feel morally satisfied, like a miracle is being done," said Mr. Tankari. "They would have lost their vision if nothing was done. It's good to know that people from the other side of the world care for a poor nation and take care of the people of Niger. I'm very proud to be helping."
The team of seven civilian translators is joined by four military translators, who are working with the Marines. The group is supervised by Maj. Sina Abdou, director of the army language center.
"Every day I come to visit and go to each room and listen for five minutes to make sure they are conveying message from patient and doctor," said Maj. Sina. "Everyday it's been very good."
For the military translators, getting to train with the Marines is beneficial for practicing English and gaining valuable military training.
"They're doing great with TSCTI also," Major Sina said. "It's very helpful for our military knowledge."
In addition to the 11 Nigerien translators, the Marines have two French translators assigned to their team. The day before the rest of the medical team got started, Capt. Steven Tittl, 439th AMS, optometrist, saw more than 130 Nigerien soldiers for eye care from the unit the Marines are training. Corporal George Kelly, a French translator assigned to the TSCTI team was Captain Tittl's translator that day.
"It was satisfying to be able to fit quite a few members of the unit we're training," said Corporal Kelly. "It can only help their training and combat readiness after training is over."
"Corporal Kelly did a great job translating and helped support me with technical duties," said Capt. Steven Tittl. "If it wasn't for him we never would have been able to treat the entire company in one day."
For the docs, good translators translate to more patients treated, which for a two-week mission is critical.
"He's invaluable for the performance of this mission," said Capt. Andrew Gibson, a physician's assistant assigned to the 6th Medical Group, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. "His broad-based knowledge of culture and language translates directly to my efficiency in diagnosing and treating patients. He's absolutely indispensable."
The translators realize the importance of the reservist's presence in their country and know the help their fellow countrymen are receiving is a gift to their nation.
"I was very touched by what you're doing here," said Artche Siradja, a translator. "You selected us among many countries. You do it in a friendly way, no arrogance. Treating people like human beings. There is nothing negative about it."
For one translator, the opportunity to work within a Nigerien community allowed him to learn a little more about his country as well as America.
"It's been enriching to me," said Ibrahim Boukary, a translator. "I think it's a good experience in terms of practicing this kind of translating. It's helped me discover some aspects of my community that I didn't fully grasp until now."