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by BBC Radio 4
Desert Island Discs

Dame Jo da Silva, engineer

Description

Dame Jo da Silva is a structural engineer and disaster relief specialist. Her humanitarian work has taken her from Sri Lanka in the wake of the Tsunami to Pakistan and Haiti to help with their post-earthquake recovery.

Jo was born in Washington DC where her father was a diplomat. As a child she enjoyed making things including buildings for her brother’s train set. After graduating from Cambridge University she joined design and engineering firm Arup where her first assignment involved working with Lord Norman Foster on a design for bus shelters.

She went on to work on the Ondaatje Wing at the National Portrait Gallery and Hong Kong’s International Airport on the island of Chek Lap Kok.

In 1994 she went to Tanzania where she worked in the refugee camps which had sprung up after the genocide in Rwanda. She devised a road system which transformed the delivery of food, water and medical supplies. After this experience she decided to devote her energies to crisis and disaster projects and in 2007 she founded Arup International Development, a not-for-profit business which designs buildings and infrastructure to help vulnerable and displaced people around the world.

In 2021 she received a Damehood in the New Year’s Honours list for her contribution to humanitarian relief.

Presenter Lauren Laverne
Producer Paula McGinley

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Episode

by BBC Radio 4