My name is Mercy Kyosiimye and, like many African people, I have a diverse history. I was born in Kenya to a mother who was a refugee from civil strife created by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda. I resided there until my parents passed away when I was eight years old. With the help of the UN my mother had made arrangements for my sister and I to return to Uganda. Once we arrived we were accepted by Watoto, an organisation that looks after orphaned children. I grew up under their care and was educated until I completed University in Kampala. During my mid-teens, I made a friend who came to Kampala for school, she was from Arusha in Tanzania. We became close and I eventually went with her during school holidays to Arusha to meet her family. They are a fabulous loving family who adopted me in a very informal sense. They treated me as a daughter and sister. As a result of joining this family my Swahili returned and improved immeasurably to full fluency in Tanzanian Swahili.
Swahili as a language is widely spoken across East Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, eastern Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and some parts of Malawi, each with their own distinct version of the language and of course accents.
In 2011, I met the man, who is now my husband, in Uganda working for a UN agency on a governance program. I accompanied him on several of his missions to other countries including, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tanzania. In this environment where we were mixing with national leaders, diplomatic staff and political leaders, I realised that I had to turn English into an equivalent first language. In Uganda I had finished a degree in Business and then, while accompanying my husband on his work assignments, I completed some additional studies to get Australian recognised qualifications. I also finished a Certificate 3 and Diploma course, anticipating they would be valuable in obtaining work when we returned permanently to Australia as well as provide a pathway to a Masters Degree. I spent a lot of time improving my skills in English whilst completing these courses via distance education. I also had two children in this time. We returned permanently to Australia in late 2015. It was a busy few years!
I had difficulty finding work in Australia, so I turned to my natural advantages; an understanding of African culture and fluency in three languages. In Australia, I had met a number of members of the African community who had very little English. From talking with them I understood the role and value of an interpreter in their interactions with governments and services. I thought I could put my language skills to use and support members of the community. As it turns out I love this work, it’s a high value commodity when done properly and contributes to the community. It provides me with great satisfaction to assist and support fellow Africans receive the support they need.
I find the work that TIS National provides to be some of the more interesting and valuable work I do. TIS National is a very well managed organisation, doing everything they can to make our access to the work as uncomplicated as possible.The work that TIS National provides can be challenging and demanding; there is a need for me to be highly accurate and comprehensive in my work. Often major life decisions might hinge on the accuracy of my work, it’s a big responsibility.
My advice for anyone who is thinking of taking up this profession is to work very hard on your language skills to keep them current and accurate, read books in English. Talk to the professionals to make sure your technical understanding is correct. Keep your national language skills up to date, talk to your friends and colleagues at home in your national language. Learn to understand the Australian administration and its requirements and of course be professional; if you don't understand something, ask someone. So far it’s been a continual learning cycle for me. Interpreting is a great profession and a valuable contribution to your community.
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