Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Meet our graduates: Damian Platt MBE

We talk to the author of “Nothing by Accident: Brazil on the Edge” about how studying languages at Edinburgh led to a career in human rights and building a world-class skatepark.

Born in Nairobi and raised in West London, Damian Platt describes himself as having always had an international perspective on life.

Photo of Damian Platt
Damian lived in Rio for many years

He had never been to Scotland before arriving at the University of Edinburgh in 1991 and, having just spent a gap year in Europe, was intending to study French and Italian.

Reflecting on Edinburgh as a “fantastic place to live and study”, Damian also mentions the flexibility of the four-year degree programme which “gave me the opportunity to switch to Spanish, a choice that opened up a new continent for me.”

“I also liked the way I could study three subjects in each of the pre-honours years. In Year 1, I took the Criminology course (based in the Law School), which introduced me to new ways of thinking about society and the rule of law and, in Year 2, I took Portuguese”.

An imagination fired

Front cover of Nothing by Accident book

Prior to moving back to Nairobi, where he now works with youth in marginalised and slum communities, Damian spent many years in Rio de Janeiro.

He has published two books about the city, most recently “Nothing by Accident: Brazil on the Edge” investigating the impact of organised crime on democracy in Rio.

Talking about his degree in Italian and Spanish, he says “My studies directed me in the way of South America when I studied Latin American literature, particularly the stories of Jorge Luis Borges under Professor Edwin Williamson, one of the world’s leading experts on Borges.”

“Borges pioneered a form of fiction writing that I had never come across before. This fired my imagination and in my third year I set off for Chile on a journey that led me to Brazil where I became involved in human rights work for more than two decades.”

From MBE to skatepark

In 2011, Damian was awarded an MBE for “services to human rights and community development in Rio de Janeiro”.

Ask about his biggest achievements, he cites the project he ran in 2019 to build a world-class skatepark in a complex of favelas in Rio that is home to 150,000 people.

“I’m very proud of it, as I had to balance multiple interests and negotiate authorisation from different stakeholders, including non-state actors.”

“No one earned a penny; all funds raised went into the construction, which provides a much needed leisure facility and safe space for young people who live in a community afflicted by chronic gun violence and social exclusion.”

You can watch or listen to Damian and other Maré Favela Skatepark team members talk about the project in a short documentary (in Portuguese, with English subtitles).

Watch or listen to the documentary on Vimeo 

Are you interested in studying European languages and cultures at Edinburgh?

Our undergraduate MA (Hons) programmes take four years to complete, including a Year Abroad in Year 3. All programmes can be taken on a single honours basis, or as a joint honours programme combining a language with one of a range of other subjects in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Most can be taken with no prior knowledge of the language. 

Our interdisciplinary postgraduate environment brings together our expertise in European languages with teaching and research in film, literature, theatre, the other arts, and translation. 

Find out more about European languages and cultures at Edinburgh

Related links

Read an interview with Damian about "Nothing by Accident" │ Sounds and Colours [external website]