“You will learn to teach / You will teach to learn / Educate to cooperate and happen.” This is the chorus of the hymn that Sebastião Antunes composed to give voice to Aidglobal, with the right to a video clip recorded through the streets of a then confined Portugal. The action was another step on the path of solidarity that Susana Damasceno began to trace 16 years ago in the association to which she gave life and which for a good part of them has solidarity shows such as O Fado Happens to raise funds to help their missions, especially education for Mozambican children.
“I just wanted to be a teacher, that’s what I’ve wanted since I was a child. And I’ve always loved books”, she tells me with a smile that lights up her whole body. We are at the table in the restaurant of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, far from the headquarters of Parque das Nações but close to the heart of Susana Damasceno, who used to run away there as a teenager to “read and be at peace” – from time to time she still relapses and this was the refuge she chose to tell me about the work that moves her in the literacy and citizenship development projects to which she gives life with a lot of help. “Angels keep appearing,” she summarizes, simplifying a process that lacks simplicity.
Nonconformist and combative, “determined and obstinate”, she says, summarizing herself as “a big bore”, she goes to the end of the world for what she wants to accomplish and volunteering was lucky to come across as a mission path. “It was a very emotional thing, nothing thought about. I was always very attentive to the most vulnerable, since I was a child, poverty made me confused and I soon understood myself as privileged to have been born in Portugal, in a family with a lot of affection and structure, of parents with a strong sense of citizenship, who reflect on what is going on around them.” But for the interest to be realized as a vocation, it took a trip to Mozambique to do volunteer work in an orphanage.
With a pie of birds and water in front, strawberries and coffee, he tells me the beginning of a journey that gave him the roots to make Aidglobal be born and grow, just like the plants in the small garden back home, to which dedicates much of the rare free time that he has so often shared with his 10-year-old son, João. The beginning of the journey did not escape plans: she took a teaching course, in the Portuguese / English variant, and completed her degree with Portuguese Studies and a postgraduate degree in Portuguese as a Non-Mother Language. And it was to education that she dedicated her first years – or, truly, all of them, although she no longer does so as a simple teacher since she decided to change her life, at the age of 31.
“I had planned a backpacking trip through the islands of Cape Verde when I read in a magazine an article about a young man who was organizing a volunteer trip to Mozambique and I changed my plans.” From the newsroom he got the organizer’s phone number, offered him to join the team and applied the savings he had for the holidays. And embarked on a journey of 20 days and many lives. The experience in that orphanage in Chibuto, Gaza, was so intense that on the last day he called his parents by the small lake that refreshed the shores of the very poor village that shared a dull knife and thanked them for “the wonderful life and the opportunities ” from which he had benefited. Sitting on a rock, she reflected on what to do with everything she had lived, felt and learned in the days spent there, in the nights she shared with the other volunteers eating fried eggplant and sleeping in five bunks. She left A Filha do Capitão, which she had taken from Portugal, as an inheritance to an old man from the village who was like her, passionate about books. And as soon as she arrived in her Lisbon, she wrote a message to all her family, friends and other acquaintances asking if they would help her to found an NGO.
“A month and a half later, on the 4th of November 2005, Aidglobal was born”, with the help of 50 people, including the Angolan journalist Guilherme Galiano, from RDP Africa, his former Santomean professor of African Literature Inocência Mata, the artist Brazilian plastic artist Renato Rodyner and Portuguese actor André Gago. He took a course on Cooperation and Development at the INA, did training at the University of Humboldt.
“In the first five years I didn’t have holidays or weekends. The volunteers would come to my house, we would do everything there, I went to knock on the doors of all the NGOs to find out what instruments there were, who to turn to, how to proceed”, says Susana Damasceno . And when she felt she could grow, she went to a friend who had some money and asked him to pay the salaries of two volunteers to help her – at that time, she combined the classes given at Casa Pia with her studies and Aidglobal and needed a few pairs of hands that would free her to better think and carry out the project. “He trusted me and offered to pay two years to the people I had selected as long as I achieved three goals in that time: creating my team, ensuring the sustainability of the organization and helping as many people as possible.” Having just joined the pedagogical area, Susana took extended unpaid leave from school and got to work and Aidglobal crystallized into what it is today, now with 20 people working between Lisbon, Madeira and Mozambique.
“The first things we sent, in a container belonging to a Guinean association, went to Guinea Bissau”, he tells me, exemplifying his reorganizing vein with the material he collected at Casa Pia and which filled an entire dormitory in an orphanage. At Aidglobal, only the desks were purchased, everything else was donated: “Other people’s garbage is our luck”, he guarantees. Mozambique became a serious case when it managed to follow the Decode course (Specialization Diploma in Development Cooperation) and the winning team of the best project. The contacts and learning led her to Aidglobal’s first projects, with the mission of building a water hole for a village. The subject was dear to her, as Susana was born with only one kidney and was well aware of the greatest needs of children in that region: water and books to drink. Making her debut in filmmaking, she made a documentary to raise funds, Dança da Água, and even the engineering study she got for free, but seeing that this objective had already been achieved by the sisters who worked there with the populations, she found out about it. if in a conversation with the president of the municipality that in Xai Xai there was a need for books. It was his beach and his opportunity to make a difference. “I put everyone on the lookout and so far we’ve set up five containers and shipped 70,000 books,” she says.
But it didn’t. If only those who lived in the city had access to the collection of municipal libraries, it was necessary to guarantee supply in school libraries. And in these, he thought, the books were stopped because there was no book culture there, so he set his hands on creating reading animation activities for the teachers to put these very important tools in the hands of the kids. This was followed by the introduction to reading books offered to all babies born in the rural hospital, the stories told in Portuguese and Changana language to mothers and babies in Chibuto, the bilingual edition of Grão de Milho Mágico, by Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo, the capulana books with the names of animals in Portuguese and Changana language. From each of the 18 times she has been to Mozambique, many of them bringing new volunteers to the field, she has added and learned and shared. “For the week, five schools are opening for the poorest children”, she is proud.
Also in Portugal, it develops education programs for nature and decarbonization, for innovation in teaching and above all for the development of global citizenship, by detecting this need as a youth association of equal value and listening to prejudiced ideas about refugees. “We don’t evangelize, but we inform independently, we give young people the tools to reflect and develop critical thinking. And we also do teacher training.”
The biggest proof of Aidglobal’s success is that “not a week goes by without receiving spontaneous applications from young people and contacts from retired people who want to help”. It is not always easy to integrate them, given the technical specificity of the work they do there, which ranges from employment contracts to access to lines of financing, including loading containers and reading stories. But finally Susana Damasceno managed to form a team that guarantees her middle management and a senior structure.
I ask what you need to do. “I have just entered a PhD in Globalization Studies that I would like to dedicate myself to. And to create a collection of articles whose sales revenue would serve to raise funds for the association. And I really want to write a book for children – I already have the chosen characters.” It is his root that is rising, the same that he passed on to his son João, with whom he says he has a triangular relationship: “Me, him and the books; every night we read a story with the voices of the characters and he loves to read.” Will take you to Mozambique soon.
And when you’re not working or with your family, what do you do? “Rest, which is what I need most, peace. I’ve had a very interesting life, I went to the theater, to exhibitions, to concerts…”, he laughs. Now his hobby, besides plants, is tango lessons. “And I dance alone at home a lot.”
When we said goodbye, she confesses that she would like to see Aidglobal survive her, but it is not something that distresses her: “I think I will still face many challenges in life and I know that with the association I have already touched many lives. Everything is born and dies, What remains is the walk, and this one by Aidglobal has been very rich. I just want it to be recognized so that they can invest in it, I don’t want it to be the biggest, but the best.”
And finally, she confides in me the main objective that drives her: “To see a Nobel Prize in Literature be born in Chibuto, someone who has evolved thanks to those libraries and has managed to nurture within himself a wonderful world that he will transmit through writing.”