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Home  >  Features  >  'It's Even More Amazing Than I Thought'


'It's Even More Amazing Than I Thought'

'It's Even More Amazing Than I Thought'

Thursday January 17 2019

Thomas Baldwin meets Amanda Mukwashi, new Chief Executive of Christian Aid

It’s approaching 5pm and most of the staff in Christian Aid’s Edinburgh office, deep in the bowels of Augustine United Church, have gone for the evening.

The organisation’s chief executive, Amanda Mukwashi, apologises for being tired after a long day of travel and meetings. But other than the request for throat sweets, it really doesn’t show. She is warm, passionate and – about nine months in – obviously deeply in love with her new job, the charity itself and its supporters.

“I think it’s an amazing role to have at a time like this. And every day… sometimes I think I understand just how amazing it is, and then I meet other people and I think ‘my goodness, it’s even more amazing than I thought’.

“Today I came straight from the train station and we went to have lunch with Lady Davidson, who has been running the book sale [at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church] for 45 years – 45 years –and we were having lunch together with a group of supporters, and they were talking about what it entails.

“And I sat there and I find it amazing – you are talking about people’s individual commitment to helping others in a very long-term approach. And it’s not just a commitment to Christian Aid, it’s a commitment and an endorsement, when I think about it, to the work that we’re doing.

“At a time when it has been quite challenging in the sector, when you sit with people like that what it says to me is if you look at history, every time we have a crisis there are people who are willing to step up and step out, to challenge the negative narrative and practices so we can create a better world.”

Amanda was born and grew up in Zambia. Her biological father died when she was two and her mother remarried, and she was raised in a large family with parents who were determined that their daughters would have the same opportunities as their sons.

“It was very fortunate that my stepfather was very much pro gender equality. For all of us he was just very clear: you all go to school, you all get the same quality education, and make the most of it.

“And my mum was very clear that as a woman you should be independent. I think that combination was very good for me. It shaped my thinking around those issues.

“There was no expectation, no pressure that as soon as I finish at university I should get married, in fact they really wanted me to go for my masters degree and do other things.”

She moved to the UK to do her masters, but says that afterwards she struggled to find work commensurate with her qualifications and wound up doing a lot of care work.

“I think there was something during that period God really wanted me to learn. And I think it’s around ethics, around integrity but I think primarily around humility. I had never envisaged myself as doing care work because I went to school, I had my degrees, I had my masters, why was I doing care work?

“But it was a time when I grew in my faith and my relationship with God, and I understood doing care work did not make me any less a person but I looked every day to see what I could learn from that process.

“And this sounds perhaps very spiritual, but I believe that when my time for learning was done in that area, God opened the door for me to move on, and I moved back into international development.”

Amanda has worked in the development sector for ‘closer to 30 years than 20’ and has worked for local charities as well as international organisations – most recently for the UN, based in Germany. She says, a bit wistfully, that she liked it in Germany, but that the Christian Aid role was a chance to combine her passion for gender and social justice with being very explicit about her faith.

Brought up a Roman Catholic, she has been a Seventh Day Adventist since university. “I wanted to really study the scriptures, and ask so many questions about the relationship between God and human beings, and I found the Seventh Day Adventists allowed me to have that space. And the music is beautiful.”

She says that her work now allows her to tackle ‘the role that faith plays in both helping those that are suffering, but sometimes in exacerbating the situation’, offering the example of the campaign to persuade churches to disinvest from fossil fuels: “While we are tackling the banks in terms of their investments, we’re talking to governments, we’re talking to multi-lateral bodies – and we are also talking to the churches and saying ‘what are you investing your resources on?’

“This is a role that Christian Aid can uniquely play because we are grounded in our faith. And our faith allows us to be able to speak very strongly against injustice – in fact our faith demands that we speak up against injustice.

“Jesus Christ was not a character that shied away from naming problems in society; to the contrary he was a character that really spoke up against double standards, he spoke up against abuse, he spoke up against injustice. He spoke up against the mistreatment of women.”

We talk briefly about the sex abuse scandal that hit the international aid sector early last year. Although Christian Aid wasn’t implicated directly, Amanda says that out of the negative story has come a determination to confront the issue. It comes back, she says, to abuse of power and exploitation of the vulnerable, which is what she has spent her working life fighting. And while she accepts it won’t be ‘a quick win’, she believes we are moving in the right direction.

“This is really what has kept me in development, really believing that we are making a difference, we are making gains – maybe not as fast as we need to, but the gains are there.”

A longer version of this interview appears in January's Life and Work. Download or subscribe here.