Where are they now? Annie Syrett

Modern Languages with Interpreting graduate, Annie Syrett, talks to the Development and Alumni Relations Team about her experience of University and what she is doing now.Annie Syrett Alay, Santa Cruz

Annie Syrett (2008, BA Modern Languages with Interpreting) spent six months working with Alalay, a street children’s organisation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, as part of her degree. Whilst working with Alalay she realised that she wanted to do more to help because the organisation had relatively little money and was very dependent on donations. Annie subsequently founded Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz), a registered UK charity, to help support the work of Alalay. Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz) is almost unique amongst charities in that all of the money raised goes directly to help the children and nothing is spent on administration costs. Since the charity’s inception in 2007 nearly £60,000 has been raised. This money has been spent on a great number of projects, including: an extensive market vegetable garden, funding English courses for the street children and establishing and equipping an on-site medical centre.

To find out more about Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz) and the various projects the charity supports, visit: www.alalay.co.uk

What attracted you to the University of Sheffield?

I visited a number of universities, but the welcome that I received from both teaching and support staff, and the relevance and breadth of the courses offered, convinced me that Sheffield was definitely the right choice for me!

What is your fondest University memory?

I have so many amazing memories of my time at University that it is difficult to choose just one. Highlights have to include: having Russian suppers with friends, organising various events to raise money for our twin university in Nicaragua, walks in the Peaks, sledging down the hills, picnics in the parks... and of course, my graduation day – looking round the Octagon at all my proud teachers and wonderful friends I had made over the four years and remembering all of the times we had shared.

What bit of advice would you give to your first-year self?

Think of ways in which you can give to university life as well as receive. Don't worry about being too busy – as long as you are involved in activities in which you really believe, it will be worth all of the effort, the experiences will be invaluable and you will still get your studies done (somehow!) Also, a reminder to investigate the Careers Service early on – I didn't find out how useful they were until later on in my university life.

As an alumna of the University yourself, do you think that it is important for the University to keep in touch with its former students?

I believe that it is really important for the University to keep in touch with former students. However, I am also convinced that it should be a two-way process - former students can help to provide useful knowledge, experience and contacts for those still studying. Sheffield was such an important place for me personally and I want to support it where possible.

What other activities were you involved in when you were at University?

I think I got involved with as much as I could whilst at Sheffield. I was Amenities and Activities Officer in Ranmoor JCR, was in the Spanish departmental play in my first year and taught Spanish in a nearby deprived primary school. I was President of SESP (Sheffield Esteli Student Partnership) – supporting our twin University in Nicaragua – with which I organised many fundraising events and both co-ordinated and taught at a Summer English course at the University, and was a member of both VODSOC (Russian department society) and the Hispanic Society.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current job?

In reality, I have three jobs. I founded and run my own charity – 'Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz)' which works in Bolivia amongst street children. Predominantly, my work has two main activities: firstly, giving talks in the UK about the plight of street children and the work of Alalay, and secondly, co-ordinating and managing the successful implementation of projects in Santa Cruz (largely self-sustainable and/or educational). In order to help pay my way, I have a job as an interpreter (Russian and Spanish) for the NHS, working in hospitals, clinics and with health visitors, and also assisting a Russian-speaking child in a primary school.

Annie Syrett children’s charity in Santa CruzWhat would be your perfect day?

My perfect day would invariably involve use of my language skills. For example, it would include hearing from the Bolivian staff about the successes of a recently implemented project, such as my new medical centre. Later on, I would perhaps speak with one of the young people who I first met at Alalay in 2006, who has since left and forged their own path – to find out what they are now achieving in their life.

Why did you decide to do what you do now?

I first came across street children during early travels with my parents in South America, and grew increasingly concerned about why they often felt safer living on the dangerous streets than in their own homes. Also, from a young age I have loved languages and the ability to be able to communicate with people of a very different culture from my own. Finally, I have a keen interest in not just providing funds, but enabling people to learn to help themselves, a sphere in which my charity very much focusses. My current work allows me to bring together my concern for others and my language skills – it is extremely varied and I am able to really make a positive impact on other peoples' lives.

Did your degree help you with what you are doing now?

My degree helped me a tremendous amount – clearly I use my language skills for every-day communication and project implementation in Bolivia, but the modules I chose whilst at Sheffield also offered me much more insight into subjects about which I am now passionate – human rights, representations of Latin America in the media and so on. The interpreting part of my course enabled me to get my job in the NHS and taught me many useful techniques. In addition, further abilities that I gained during my course, such as valuable presentation skills, showed me more effective ways to communicate and allowed me to believe that I did have something important to say. Nowadays I regularly give talks in a variety of institutions, and I definitely feel more confident doing so.

However, alongside my academic studies I believe that the support I received (and continue to receive) from my departments stood me in very good stead. Furthermore, my extra-curricular activities in Sheffield gave me my first taste of fundraising, event organising and project management, and encouraged me to choose a path where I would actively help others.

What are your ambitions for the future?

For the future I wish to continue the work that I have already begun in Bolivia. I would also like to seek employment in an international development organisation, where I am able to use my language and organisational skills and build on the experience that I have gained from running my own charity.

To find out more about Friends of Alalay (Santa Cruz) and the various projects the charity supports, visit: www.alalay.co.uk