Words Across Continents:

a profile of SIL LEAD consultant Dr. Barbara Trudell

Most Americans will never have to relocate because of terrorism, but for Barbara Trudell it was all just part of her life as a professional linguist. Raised in tranquil western New York State, Barbara attended Houghton College where she studied linguistics and met Joel, the man who would become her husband. The two were interested in literacy work and after graduating from Houghton, in 1980 they joined SIL.

SIL sent them as a literacy team to Peru, where for three years they worked with Quechua language groups in the highlands around the beautiful mountain city of Huancayo.

The eighties brought heightened terrorist activity to Peru, most notably by the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. This activity was most concentrated in regions furthest from the country’s capital. So Barbara and her husband relocated to Lima, where for the next seven years she worked as SIL’s literacy coordinator for Peru.

In 1993, Barbara and Joel were invited to join the SIL team in Africa. She went to Nairobi and worked as the SIL Africa Area literacy coordinator until 2000. Between 2001 and 2004, she went to Edinburgh for her PhD, and returned to Nairobi in 2005.

Over the next few years the most fun things she did, Barbara says, increasingly involved engaging with people and organizations outside SIL in professional representation, research, and advocacy work. So in 2010, Barbara convinced the SIL area director to let her start a new department that would focus on advocacy and alliance-building, as well as consulting and service provision to customers outside of SIL. Barbara called it “AAB” for short. They started with three people but are now at fifteen, running a self-funding operation where the project work they do supports the department’s advocacy work and the salaries of local staff.

SIL LEAD had also started up around the same time.

Since she was on the SIL International Board at the time, Barbara knew about SIL LEAD from its inception; so she thought it would be interesting to see what kind of interest there might be among USAID implementing organizations in the services her department and SIL LEAD would be able to provide. She developed a capability statement and prepared herself for a slog through the bureaucratic trenches, but quickly discovered that the United States government and its implementing organizations were well aware of the need for reading and education work in local languages, around the world and especially in Africa. USAID had just laid out a new education strategy that involved increasing the number of children who could read. With a receptive audience at the governmental level and years of experience to draw on, Barbara’s AAB department has been able to forge a strong partnership with SIL LEAD as we seek to reach local language communities around Africa. In fact, were AAB’s strongest partner, and have worked with AAB consultants and service providers in Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, the DRC, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, and Madagascar.

 collaborating with SIL LEAD on the Ghana Learning project

collaborating with SIL LEAD on the Ghana Learning project

Barbara says it’s been a privilege to work with SIL LEAD, which she describes as a high-trust organization. She says we are prompt with payments, and are as concerned with the wellbeing of consultants as we are with the bottom line—which she notes is not always the case in development work. She says she’s been impressed with our responsiveness and integrity, and that SIL LEAD always comes through for her SIL department. “Whenever we can work with you,” she adds, “we do.”

Joel and Barbara Aug17.JPG

Development work leans heavily on relationships, and Barbara had noticed that most of the work her department was finding was located around them in Nairobi. So this past year she and her husband decided to move to Cape Town, South Africa. With the AAB staff located in Nairobi, Senegal, the UK and the USA, the Trudells now have begun the hard work of building relationships and finding more literacy opportunities in the southern end of the continent.  This has been a challenge for them. But in speaking with Dr. Trudell, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the enjoyment and passion she feels for this work, and the energy she brings to plowing ahead and forging new connections, regardless of adversity.

This is, after all, a woman who didn’t let a little terrorism get her down.

It is no easy thing to uproot, cross a continent, and build a network of friends and colleagues from scratch. But for the Trudells—who love to travel and get to know new places—every day in Cape Town is an opportunity to learn something new about the cultural and sociopolitical scene in their new home.

The greatest leaders and innovators throughout history dedicate a significant portion of their lives to learning, reading, and growing. Dr. Trudell has not only dedicated her entire life to opening up the world of books to countless others around the globe, but she’s practiced it for herself, as well.

Her resulting energy and enthusiasm for her work with SIL LEAD is obvious, and we’re thrilled to work with Barbara and her team on our projects.