“I built a translation portal to help doctors treat migrant workers”

Sudesna Roy Chowdhury, 24, Singapore

On April 14, Singapore experienced a record number of coronavirus cases and it was discovered that the majority of those infected were migrant workers. But because of language barriers, communication between doctors and foreign patients was very difficult. 

I had graduated from medical school two weeks before and, as I was waiting to start my new job, I decided to help. I created a website that featured translations of common questions that doctors ask when they first visit a patient — “What is your name,” “Where do you live,” “What symptoms do you have” etc. Because a third of the 1.2 million migrant workers in Singapore are Bangladeshi, I tailored my website to them, providing Bengali translations to English sentences.  

The website allows doctors to show patients the translation – or play out loud the audio version – of the question they want to ask. Most of the questions have a simple “yes or no” answer. In the case of a more complex answer, such as listing pre-existing conditions, foreign patients simply need to point out conditions from a list. 

A screenshot of the website built by Sudesna to facilitate communication between doctors and foreign patients

The website was an overnight effort that stemmed from fear and hopelessness. I had never built one before, so I had to Google how to do it. But I sat down and, eight hours later, it was up and running. It had to be done quickly because I knew that many doctors would be going to migrant workers dormitories the next morning.

I only told a few friends about it, but it quickly inspired many people who came forward wanting to help. People started providing translations in their own languages, which were then compiled into another website. I didn’t ask anyone to do it for Nepali or Vietnamese or Spanish — people just did it for their own communities. That’s when the real movement around migrant workers started.  

I am actually not part of the project anymore. I delegated all responsibilities related to the website a few days ago, right before starting my new job as a doctor. The project is now all volunteer-driven and there are around 100 people in the Whatsapp group that was created to help out foreign workers affected by the virus. They have also organized food deliveries for those who need it. Now there is a community.

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