Mustafa Derbashi

Mustafa Derbashi

Freelance Interpreter/Cultural Advisor
Graduate Certificate in Arts

A good professional interpreter really helps new arrivals integrate into New Zealand society, says AUT interpreting alumnus Dr Mustafa Derbashi who was asked to interpret in the High Court at the sentencing of the Christchurch mosque attacker.

“As a professional Arabic/English interpreter I’m helping people to understand and to be understood. I’ve taken on many roles for the Arabic speaking community to ensure that they’re given equal access to the health and legal system in New Zealand.

“One of my most memorable moments was interpreting simultaneously for three hours solid for 22 speakers, including the Mayor of Dunedin, at the Forsyth Barr Stadium vigil following the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks. The vigil attracted more than 18,000 people in an unprecedented show of love. The next day, I flew to Christchurch to assist with the funeral process and support the families and other people who were there to offer their support.”

In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack, Mustafa has also used his language skills to interpret for the Dunedin and Christchurch courts, Stopping Violence, Catholic services, the Dunedin police, Dunedin City Council, lawyers and the Minister of Health.

He supported the victims of the mosque attacks at the terrorist’s sentencing hearing, and was recently selected as a member of Kāpuia - The Ministerial Advisory Group on the Government’s Response to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques. In June 2021, he was also appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Inspired by dedication and kindness
His journey towards becoming an interpreter started when he first met AUT’s interpreting staff, says Mustafa who is Palestinian and has lived in New Zealand since 2001.

“I chose to study interpreting because I had previously been involved in supporting recently arrived migrant and refugees. I went to an interview at AUT and the people who interviewed me, Jo Anna Burn and Associate Professor Ineke Crezee, explained that to be a good interpreter you have to be a fluent bilingual and very competent. But more importantly, you have to be a very ethical and professional person, helping people to be heard and understood. This immediately resonated with me.

“I was drawn to AUT from the beginning because of the unique way Ineke and Jo Anna welcomed people from a range of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and treated them with respect. Their way of respecting others, and welcoming them in a very friendly and professional way was what first encouraged me to enrol and have a go.”

He was inspired by the dedication and kindness of the interpreting staff, Mustafa says.

“My personal commitment to be the best student I can possibly be is, in large part, due to the enthusiasm the academic staff brought to the programme. My health and legal interpreting lecturers, for example, helped move students from a more traditional learning system to one where they reflect on cross-cultural issues and take responsibility for their own professional development. This approach to learning was one of the great highlights and took me in a whole new direction. I also appreciated that the courses were all structured to include relevant field projects with a local twist applied to global issues.”

A significant achievement
He is proud of graduating with an A- average, says Mustafa whose career background and doctoral degree was in education administration and management.

“That was really nice for a man my age who has a family of five to look after at the same time. I’m now thinking seriously about getting back to university next year to complete a PhD study in interpreting. I would most likely focus on court interpreting since I interpreted at the sentencing of the mosque attacks accused in Christchurch.”

Mustafa, who has been working as a professional interpreter since 2018, has some great advice for other students.

“Be ethical, be ethical, be ethical. Keep working on your professional development, and keep working on your knowledge and skills in both languages. Never stop learning. Work hard and you will be rewarded down the track. Respect this industry by trying to be the best successful and impartial professional interpreter you can be.”

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