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Notes from abroad

Names & Faces - A career in music stymied, Arup's Jo Da Silva discovered engineering and the power it has in helping people stand on their own two feet.

Jo Da Silva will head Arup's new division, Arup International Development, when it launches at the beginning of April.

Da Silva's civil engineering career nearly didn't happen. 'I had applied for music college, ' she explained - her rst love being the E-at clarinet. But her hands were too small for a serious career.

Casting around for an alternative she came upon civil engineering - 'designing bridges and things, which I thought was really cool'.

Da Silva's music teacher persuaded her to apply for Cambridge and music's loss was civil engineering's gain.

At Cambridge, she met with the first constant of her professional life - Arup. 'I came here as a pre-university trainee and spent six months working on the early stages of the Stansted Airport design and the British Library site.

Three months' backpacking in Turkey red a wanderlust, which led to her second professional constant - development work.

After university Da Silva went to India, living in a remote village for a year - 'four and a half hours from the nearest town. I built a road and a clinic, and that was when the lightbulb went on.

It is the role engineering plays, providing infrastructure, that is the catalyst for unlocking human capability, ' she says.

Da Silva came back to the UK in 1989, working as a structural engineer for Arup. In 1991 she became involved with RedR-IHE. Her first assignment was in Rwanda in 1994, during the genocide. 'While not in the thick of the destruction, by the time we left there were about 150,000 refugees in the area.'

Da Silva helped manage the exodus and worked on roads, planning camps and distribution centres. Following this she became chairman of RedR-IHE, later founding RedR International, providing shelter advice to Galle in Sri Lanka following hurricane Mitch, and Montserrat after the earthquake there in 1995.

Dr Tom Corsellis, a leading expert on shelter, proposed that UNHCR appoint Da Silva to the role of organising the relief effort after the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

So with such diverse experience it's no surprise that Arup turned to Da Silva to set up its international business.

Q&A - Jo Da Silva

Likes: Mountaineering.

Favourite lm: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Heroine: Arlene Blum for being a pioneering mountaineer and bio-chemist, overcoming male prejudice in the process.

What you wanted for Christmas: A pair of Petzl/Charlet Quark ice axes and a Le Creuset casserole - the really big one in ivory, not the traditional orange.

What you got for Christmas: A really bad cold!

Favourite food? Green & Black's dark chocolate biscuits; I've have been known to get through a box in one sitting.

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