Notes: Head of Education, Project Trust
My name is Heloise Allan and I'm Head of Education on the Isle of Coll in the Hebrides.
How did you become involved with Project Trust?
I first became involved with Project Trust when I was 17 years old and attended a Selection Course on the Isle of Coll. I was selected to be a 12-month volunteer with Project Trust in Bai Chay, Vietnam, teaching English at Quang Ninh College. I can honestly say that the decision to come up to Coll at the age of 17 and the subsequent placement in Vietnam has pretty much influenced everything I have done since!
What role has languages played in your study and later in your career?
I had a truly inspiring French teacher at secondary school, Mrs Adams, and despite not being a natural at languages and French being the cursed subject in my family, I went on to take it for A-level. I never thought I was capable of doing languages to degree-level but it was working in Vietnam at the age of 18 and seeing first-hand the power of speaking a second language that made me want to change my degree to include a language element. I studied Modern Foreign Languages and English Literature at Edinburgh University which I absolutely loved. My third year abroad was spent in Senegal working with an HIV charity. Following on from university, I gained a placement on VSO’s (Voluntary Services Overseas) YfD Programme (Youth for Development) in Rwanda working as an HIV Coordinator. It was a fascinating time to be in Rwanda as it was moving from being a Francophone to Anglophone country.
Why do you think it adds to the work of Project Trust if you are able to communicate in other languages?
Undoubtedly the strongest volunteers I have visited are those who have made a real effort to learn the local language. Whether that be through joining a local football team in Thailand or watching Argentinian soap operas with the tias in a Peruvian aldea (orphanage), throwing yourself into learning the language leads to the fastest immersion within a community. There is so much more respect for the volunteer within a community if he or she is trying hard to learn the language. It leads to a lot of laughter too as volunteers inevitably make plenty of mistakes along the way. It is such a highlight of my job to visit volunteers on their placements and see how much they are getting from speaking the local language. Every year, we get a significant number of volunteers who change their university degrees to include languages as a direct result of their experience overseas. That in itself demonstrates the power of learning languages and the importance it has for volunteers.
Why would you recommend learning languages to others? What benefits have they brought you?
I love the Nelson Mandela quote, ‘if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart’. I really think that sums up why we should all learn languages. If you really want to build relationships with people and truly understand people, you need to speak in their language. Learning languages has brought all sorts of benefits. Initially learning languages led me to do a degree that I really loved, a year abroad that challenged me hugely and ultimately the job that I do now which I am passionate about. More importantly than that though, learning languages has allowed me to have friendships with people across the world from Vietnam to Rwanda to Senegal.
For more information about Project Trust and to read some of the case studies from volunteer participants, visit our Project Trust webpages.
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