Time for new adventures: Hannah's Story
In 2012 Hannah Hulin had just graduated from Sussex University with a degree in International Development Studies, when an assistant role came up at Music as Therapy International. It was job she never thought would exist as it married together all of her interests – international development, charity work and music. To start with she simply supported the team with anything they needed, but gradually Hannah was able to organically develop the role further, becoming a Project Co-ordinator. Less than a year after starting she travelled to Romania, organising the whole trip, visiting ten centres and reporting back. This was followed by Rwanda, where she delivered a six-week Field Project with a music therapist. Since then Hannah has also developed her own projects in India, returned to Rwanda and also Romania, where she organised and delivered a two-day conference for the charity’s Local Partners.
Music as Therapy International has grown a great deal since Hannah started. Her arrival represented the first stage of that growth as the charity started to work internationally. “Once someone else comes in with energy and passion too, it naturally feeds to grow something,” says Hannah. “Alexia wanted to grow the work in the UK and with Jane and me working on the international side, it meant Alexia was freed up to put her brainpower and passion into projects closer to home.”
“Working for Music as Therapy has made me more interested in a creative and integrated approach to working with people with learning difficulties.”
Music as Therapy International has shaped Hannah’s life for the last five years, providing self-development and opportunities to advance her skills, learn and travel. “It has hugely encouraged my passion for working with people with learning difficulties, which is what I am pursuing more of now,” she says. “Working for Music as Therapy has made me more interested in a creative and integrated approach to working with people with learning difficulties.” Hannah has since set up a dance project in Brighton, using many aspects of Music as Therapy International’s approach, as well as music and yoga sessions with children she has worked with during out-of-school respite care for young people with learning difficulties. “I feel eternally grateful to Alexia because I had a lot to learn and I was given that space to learn and to make mistakes.” Hannah also learned a great deal about managing people from both Alexia and Jane. “Their approach to interacting with people, supporting them and nurturing what they are good at - rather than highlighting the negatives - set a good example,” she says. “I think I’ve been a bit spoilt working for such a lovely charity.”
"Many NGOs have this idea that there is one particular model they can implement across all countries in Africa. They forget to go and ask the local people what they actually want or need and whether it is applicable – and Music as Therapy always do that.”
Hannah believes everyone who works at Music as Therapy International has the charity’s best interests at heart and that it never feels like a selfish endeavour on anyone’s part. “The projects reflect that. We are not trying to make work for ourselves. We ultimately want to do ourselves out of a job. That is what I like about the charity,” she says. Having studied international development closely, Hannah was aware some larger charitable organisations were creating dependent relationships, whereas Music as Therapy International was always seeking to give people the skills and autonomy to take on a delivered project themselves and not require support forever. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to a project,” says Hannah. “This means we can tailor something to meet the needs of whoever we are working with and whichever context you are working in. Many NGOs have this idea that there is one particular model they can implement across all countries in Africa. They forget to go and ask the local people what they actually want or need and whether it is applicable – and Music as Therapy always do that.” Hannah is not comfortable with the short-term idea of ‘voluntourism’, which she finds a problematic area. “Instead, we go for a short time but leave something that will hopefully benefit people into the future, giving them skills and confidence and something tangible they can use,” she says. “To me this is better than just going and helping out for a bit and leaving.”
Implementing the projects in Rwanda was a highlight of Hannah’s time at Music as Therapy International. She had never been to Africa before and was apprehensive, but loved the country and the culture and the challenge of what they were doing. “Being able to put into practice lots of things I had thought about and learned whilst at university was a really great opportunity,” she says.
Another highlight was a conference in Romania in 2015, delivered by Music as Therapy International. Six music therapists from the Advisory Panel came out as key speakers and to deliver some of the workshops and lectures. These six were some of the first music therapists to deliver the project in Romania when Alexia started the charity and they made a strong impression on Hannah at the time. “They are an amazing group of women and I felt really inspired hearing their history of involvement with the charity,” she says. “Even after all this time they were still more than happy to come immediately to Romania for four days and speak at the conference. I felt empowered by spending time with them.” This progress made in Romania has motivated Hannah hugely and has been very inspiring. “It gave me a bit of a benchmark to show how it can take time to get it done, but just look at how far they have come now.”
"Trust is so important to keep people loyal to an organisation for a long time. It empowers you.”
The skill-sharing element was one of the first things that drew Hannah to the charity and the support she has received has kept her loyal. “I stayed loyal because they were loyal to me. The nurturing I received from Jane and Alexia has been amazing. They listen and have given me autonomy and really trusted me. Trust is so important to keep people loyal to an organisation for a long time. It empowers you.” Hannah feels that the holistic and tailor-made responses to people and projects and the fact that they listen is what sets Music as Therapy International apart from others. “We don’t just knee-jerk respond to things. We try to ask the right questions and listen to those responses and collaboratively come up with what could be the best thing.”
“Making the decision to leave was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make but I feel that I will always be involved with the charity."
Hannah is now moving on to pastures new. She is currently living in Bristol and wants to pursue work with people with learning difficulties. She is keen to set up on her own, possibly a charity or an organisation offering creative opportunities to adults or young people with learning difficulties. In June she headed back to Rwanda; even once she is not officially employed by Music as Therapy she will still be involved in the Rwanda project as a volunteer. She is forthrightly passionate about her time at Music as Therapy International. “Making the decision to leave was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make but I feel that I will always be involved with the charity,” she says. “It is very close to my heart and very personal.”