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The story behinds SOMA book by Filipa Rebelo.

Written by:
July 13, 2023
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On August 7, 2022, I landed in São Tomé to be part of this cause. SOMA (Surfers Proud of African Women) is a project that challenged me to navigate through different cultures and resources but shared vision regarding the importance of safeguarding education and sports in a community, advocating for girls' access to these areas. The idea of finding a project that combined education with sports, in a model that strives to become increasingly robust in surf therapy, without neglecting interpersonal relationship issues, left me with a desire to fly to the island almost immediately.

In preparing my journey  to the field, I considered that the challenge of volunteering should not be mine alone. I proposed to my former school to engage with several classes on Human Rights, Volunteering, and Citizenship, explaining what I expected to encounter in São Tomé (a country I was already familiar with). This marked the beginning of a partnership and an agreement: after my time with SOMA in the field, I would return to the school to share my experience with the class and demonstrate how the donations they had arranged had reached the field.

That's how it happened. After an intense, vibrant, and highly challenging field experience, I returned to the citizenship class of the 6th-grade A (at that time). My objective was simple. If my volunteer experience had such a profound impact on me, why should I keep it all to myself? Volunteering can be extended beyond, even after the end of the field phase. Once again back at my old school, I wanted to show: How does SOMA really work? What is life like in the village of Santana? How does educational support function, and how is surfing supported? After the explanation, we took time to reflect: What do you think about the resources of this population? Is going to school truly important? How do we explain that girls can also learn to study better and surf? Why is it that some children in São Tomé do not stay in school for longer periods?

But things didn't stop there. The students began writing compositions on the subject. They wanted to see more pictures, and we considered starting a new donation collection. However, a better idea came up: "What if we could explain to more people what SOMA does and what these girls do on their daily lives?" "What if our class created a children's book talking about the SOMA project and São Tomé?" – I can tell you that this moment made me tremendously excited and, of course, very proud of what the school could offer to an association like SOMA, which had already captured my heart.

The idea began to take shape. The risk was significant: after all, 6th-grade students who had never been to São Tomé were going to write a story based on that reality. It took a lot of time and extensive research. Portuguese classes were not enough, and the students started combining regular class hours with the time of the "Clube Riscos e Rabiscos" (Sketch and Scribble Club) that they had created at school.

The challenge expanded into other areas: a children's book requires illustrations. After all, how do you illustrate a story? Visual Education classes began focusing on this theme. Even during the Easter break, time was dedicated to illustrating: the characters, the landscapes, the most important moments of the story.

Moving forward with the Portuguese text and the illustrations of the book, other questions began to arise: How to finance the project? The students contacted the Municipality and asked the President to visit the school to see what they were working on – and the Municipal Council of Matosinhos applauded the project and agreed to fund it. And how to ensure that our story is read in every corner of the world? The answer quickly arrived. "We can translate the story into English," said some of the students in the class, and the book became a bilingual edition.

At the book launch, in addition to being able to share my testimony about volunteering in the field, there was also time to hear from Dr. Joel Cleto, the author of the preface, Francisca Sequeira, President of SOMA, and Dr. António Correia Pinto, Education Councilor of the Municipality of Matosinhos. On June 18, 2023, the students of 6th Grade A presented the book to the entire community. They also enlivened the moment with songs, one of them dedicated to SOMA – adapting an African song. At this moment, they were accompanied by Professor Igor Reina from the Óscar da Silva Music School and by the TunaF - Tuna Feminina do Orfeão Universitário do Porto [a female group of university students that performs local and international songs with a cultural background].

And now? I believe that SOMA can go even further with more support and increasingly cohesive intervention. Share a bit more about our mission and read this wonderful work! This way, more people can understand that education and reading are like weapons against inequality. More ideas will come, I have no doubt.

Happy reading!

Filipa Rebelo

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