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Air Force language supports strengthens global health alliance with African partners

  • Published
  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring U.S. strength and are critical to achieving United States Air Force objectives. French Language Enabled Airman Program Scholar Master Sgt. Dieudonne Batawila recently supported the Office of the Command Surgeon USAFE-AFAFRICA in strengthening partnerships with 27 African partner nations through the global health engagement hosted by the African Partnership Outbreak Response Alliance, or APORA.

APORA is a senior African military medical program focused on collaborative prevention, detection, and response to infectious disease outbreaks in Africa. APORA conducts a series of key leader engagements focusing on building health security capacities among partner nations while promoting effective military-civilian partnerships. 

The virtual two-day event hosted speakers from various African nation’s Medical Military and Ministry of Health leaders. It featured speakers from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Defense Institute for Medical Operations, and the Air National Guard State Partnership Program.

“APORA plays a major role and contribution to the defense and security sector in achieving Global Health Security Agenda objectives,” Maj. Mumbi Ngugi, International Health Specialist with the Office of the Command Surgeon USAFE-AFAFRICA, explained. “APORA has been deemed a priority by President Joe Biden in the annual Global Health and Security Partnership White House report of Nov. 29, 2022, because when one country is affected by a pandemic or epidemic, we are all affected.”

Ngugi, who is also a LEAP Scholar for Swahili, spearheaded the planning for this event and worked directly with Batawila to facilitate language support. Since most of the participating partner nations are French-speaking, Batawila played an integral role in the planning and successful implementation of the event.
“Due to his extensive French language and cultural skills, Master Sgt. Batawila offered technical medical translation assistance in support of the APORA event. He also helped to translate a technical medical APORA document and interpreted at six APORA Executive Board meetings,” Ngugi said. “He was integral in helping us go after our AFRICOM Line of Effort of strengthening alliances with partner nations.”

Batawila’s culture and language skills gained through LEAP, paired with his technical skills, made him the ideal multi-capable Airman to assist in facilitating this event.

“I was lucky to have attended numerous eMentors and Language Intensive Training Events where I was exposed to a variety of topics, ranging from domestic politics and regional security to health care system or medical challenges in the AOR,” Batawila said. “Although I don’t work in the medical field, the vocabulary I previously built through multiple LEAP-sponsored language trainings helped tremendously during this virtual engagement.”

Because he spoke the target language and the military terminology, Batawila’s support broke communication barriers to facilitate better understanding and collaboration among partner nations during this engagement.

“I always say an interpreter can make or break an engagement. At higher level engagements like this where uniformed members from different backgrounds cooperate with their civilian counterparts, you must always stay sharp,” Batawila explained. “Interpreting for a four-star general or the Minister of Health can be intimidating, but with preparation and some icebreakers, you can still save the day. The key takeaway here is being an interpreter for a military-civilian event like this one will require you to juggle between your target language and the military lingo from any branch.”

Batawila grew professionally and personally from participation in this Training Partnership Request.

“Professionally, I think this event kept me on my toes. It also reinforced my ability to multitask and served as a reminder that the Air Force Culture and Language Center has always provided us with the right tools to succeed while contributing to meeting our National Security objectives,” Batawila said.

“On the personal level, I have learned a lot from the participants during this event, and I was able to build a robust medical vocabulary for the next global health engagement, whether in the virtual or in person.” 

Ngugi and her team praised Batawila for his single-handed language support and emphasized the importance of his presence to the success of the event.

“He is professional, flexible, and an excellent problem solver; his positive attitude is infectious,” Ngugi said. “Master Sgt. Batawila truly exemplifies the greatest attributes of a LEAP Scholar, and the event would not have happened without him.”

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