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(The Argus) From African freedom fighter to Sussex translator

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Sunday, 01 December 2019

Mebrak Ghebreweldi founded translation firm Vandu 20 years ago

From African freedom fighter to Sussex translator

A WOMAN who spent 14 years fighting for freedom in Africa has now celebrated 20 years at the helm of a successful translation firm.

Lewes resident Mebrak Ghebreweldi fought in the Eritrean War of Independence against the Ethiopian government in the Eighties and Nineties.

During the near-30-year war, Ms Ghebreweldi was a field doctor and skilled Morse code operator during her nation’s fight for freedom.

It was in Eritrea that she learnt about the importance of communication.

“Effective communication is a powerful tool that can change a nation’s fate and build a better world,” she said.

After the small African nation won its independence in 1991, Ms Ghebreweldi moved to London the next year as a student to study business and computing.

Gaining a Master’s in business management in 1999, she then started her own language business as a single mother with two sons under five.

Twenty years later, she is now head of Vandu, a Lewes translation company with 1,500

linguists trained in more than 100 languages.

Her firm helps migrants and refugees become qualified interpreters, connecting minority communities across the country and giving them the skills to succeed in their new home.

It was Ms Ghebreweldi’s wartime experience that shaped this noble goal.

“I learnt the consequence of breakdowns in communication, especially in a warzone,” she said.

Despite starting off 20 years ago as family-run Southeast Interpreting and Translations Services, Vandu has fought off multinational giants in the industry.

The firm’s secret has always been its emphasis on connecting communities, said Ms Ghebreweldi.

“Helping people use their language and ethnicity as an advantage to get a better life, especially those displaced by war and conflict, kept us going,” she said.

“We had no other fighting tool except being embedded in our communities.”

Vandu has helped countless people train as doctors, nurses, and social workers.

Some have even set up their own businesses.

“One interpreter went on to complete an MA in translation and now operates her own consultancy,” Ms Ghebreweldi said.

“Another now runs their own Thai restaurant in Brighton.”

With Britain becoming more diverse, Vandu’s services are in demand.

More than 60 languages are spoken throughout Sussex.

Arabic, Bengali, Farsi, Polish, and Mandarin are the most requested languages in the county.

Now Vandu plans to offer training programmes to help small business owners from minority backgrounds develop their companies.

“We’ve never been about huge profits but social equality and justice through clear communication and understanding,” said Ms Ghebreweldi.

“It is what we have done in the last 20 years.

“Vandu is a solid, reliable and consistent small business.

“Helping not just the displaced but those who run businesses across cultures is what we will carry on doing.”

Ms Ghebreweldi is also the founder of Diversity Resource International, a group training minority communities to start up businesses and gain skills.

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