"Sometimes, when you live in an underprivileged area, you limit yourself to what you think you can be, to what you think you can achieve. But you can always have a dream."
That's the philosophy of Angela Helena Carvalho de Sa, a 23-year-old who spends as much time as she can helping others achieve their dreams. She's proud of her work yet hesitant to give herself any credit.
"It often feels like I'm not doing enough," she says.
Actually, it seems the opposite is true. Carvalho de Sa is earning her degree in clinical psychology at the Catholic University of Angola. She works with Kalemba Radical, an organization that keeps kids off the streets through extreme sports. She helped start a mentoring program for young women called Projecto O Testemunho. Ever since her second year of college, she has been volunteering at an orphanage for girls — tutoring in math, science and geography.
Then there are the annual trips Carvalho de Sa and other volunteers take to poor areas in other provinces — and that hooked her on community service. They'll stay for two weeks before school starts, reviewing what the students (from primary school to high school) learned over the past school year and preparing them for their classes. The parents live well below the poverty line and often have to walk around 7 miles round trip to get to work, but they give the volunteers whatever food they can spare. Carvalho de Sa describes these people as some of the happiest she's ever seen and calls the trip her a "cleansing experience."
"I cannot be here complaining about my life," she says. "These people, who in my point of view are going through hardship bigger than mine, are happy and can see the silver lining."
Carvalho de Sa is particularly interested in the role of women. After receiving a scholarship called "Women Changing the Face of Leadership" through the Study of the U.S. Institutes (part of the U.S. State Department), she was put in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Angola, which connected her to three other young women with similar interests. Together they created Testemunho (Testimony).
The testimony comes from mentors who speak to a group of 25 women selected for the program (mostly from a troubled area of Luanda called Cazenga).The speakers have included doctors, lawyers, a hair activist (who advocates for the appreciation of natural hair vs. treated hair), a secretary who worked her way up to the boardroom (and now owns her own company). The idea is to give the women insights and skills so they can build their own career.
"Women are the central figure that connects the family," Carvalho de Sa says. "If you're empowering a woman, you're also empowering a whole community. And especially when you start with young women, they will make a great impact."
This busy young Angolan is also getting into sports activism, helping a group called Kalemba. Its founder, a photographer named Tchiyna Martos, noticed Angolan children were hopping on wooden boards, riding waves close to the shore, combining surf and skateboard moves. The kids might not have realized it but they were participating in a sport called skimboarding.
Kalemba (the name for the bigger waves) embraced the phenomenon, providing boards and wetsuits for skimboarding children. The idea is to use the sport to keep youngsters out of trouble. Parents are informed about practice schedules so there can be no question where their kids are. The organization has grown to include skateboarding, rollerblading and surfing. Sponsorship comes from Sumol + Compal, a Portuguese beverage company, and Sogester, a terminal management company on the Port of Luanda.
Carvalho de Sa helps plan the Kalemba International Skimboarding Competition each year, which attracts skimboarders from all over the world even though there isn't any prize money.
Carvalho de Sa wouldn't be involved if there wasn't an educational aspect. If there is an important holiday on the horizon, like International Children's Day, the Kalemba kids are asked to write a one-page paper about its importance. Sogester provided a white stationary trailer with computers and Wi-Fi so the kids can complete Kalemba's assignments and other homework. Some kids who joined the program when it started four years ago are now old enough to think about college. And Carvalho de Sa is very proud that Kalemba is helping them succeed in school.
"No one can ever take from you what you have learned," she says. "Material things can get stolen, lost in fire, lost in a flood. But what you have up here, in your brain, that is yours."