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Inside/Out with Joan Mtukwa, Country Director, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)
October 22, 2010

Full interview with Joan Mtukwa - Read and listen

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Be who you are. Don't try and pretend or copy anybody. Just be yourself.

What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever done?
I have done a few ridiculous things. Like going to a party when I was young and I got drunk. I woke up the next day with a terrible headache, wondering whether it was worth it. Also, when I was in college, there was a time when I was copying others and I decided to smoke. But each time I did, the following day my throat would feel awful. I eventually gave it up. If one were given a chance to repeat their life, I would not have had anything to do with that.

What is your most treasured possession?
My car. Over the years I've realised that when you stand by the road waiting for a lift or a kombi, you waste time. And there isn't enough time in the day - there are too many things you need to accomplish. A house is also very important. Having somewhere you call home, where you go to everyday and relax without somebody coming to say, "when are you paying your rent?" or " I don't like the way you are looking after this and that".

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I've seen people whose homes you go to and you can really see that there is nothing. There isn't even food and you really wonder, what is this person going to eat or cook? They tell you they have nothing and you don't know how to help them. And you leave that place feeling kind of depressed and wondering what is going to happen to them. I've been in such situations during the course of my work.

Do you have any strange hobbies?
No. Mine are all normal. I love gardening and cooking as well as surfing the Internet - just looking for the latest that is happening around the world. I also like interior decorating but I wish I had more time for that.

What did you like most about your parents?
They wanted us to go to school and for us all to get an education. It didn't make any difference whether you were a boy or a girl. And they really worked hard to get us to school. As a result I have also wanted my children to get a good education, meaning that I have had to sacrifice so that they can go to a good school and get a good education.

What have you got in your fridge?
You'd find some cheese, some eggs, some left over salad, fish, chicken, a bit of beef because I don't take beef that much, and water, of course.

What is your greatest fear?
Leaving this world before my children have completed their education. I want them to feel that they can be on their own and are able to look after themselves.

What is your favourite journey?
I like going to the Victoria Falls - the falls themselves are spectacular! And the Eastern Highlands, especially Nyanga; it's cool, the environment is completely different and the views are beautiful.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Mother Theresa is somebody I admire very much. The sort of work she did in the humanitarian sector. Assisting people and even risking her health by staying with people with tuberculosis and assisting street people in India. I really admire her. I also admire Lady Diana to some extent. There is a fund that was founded in her name to assist victims of landmines in Angola and our organisation happened to be working there. In Angola a lot of people got maimed by the war, they lost limbs and that fund did a lot to assist.

When and where were you happiest?
When I was in college, in Sierra Leone. After having been a refugee, it was a big thing for me to be at university. I could study freely, knowing my fees were paid and having everything I needed as a student in order to complete my education.

What's your biggest vice?
I like chocolate cake but I'm diabetic so I'm not supposed to eat things like that. But there are times, like it's a birthday party where I just feel, let me spoil myself. I also like peanuts and as a diabetic I'm supposed to measure what I eat. But sometimes I take more than I should!

What were you like at school?
I was very playful. I had many friends. I just loved playing. I also did a lot of sports. I was captain of the netball team. I was not very good at running. I was good in field events - javelin, shot-put, discuss. Then I was also in the first aid club and I loved that because we used to go for picnics.

What are you doing next?
I'll be looking at the news on the Internet. Everyday, if I have an extra moment, I want to check what is going on around the world.

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