Campus and Community

“There is always a way to contribute to a better world ”

These are the words of a Técnico alumna who helps and brings joy to orphaned and malnourished children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tânia Trindade’ s life story is an ode to hope and to solidarity. The Técnico alumna moved to her birth country, which she has never had the opportunity to know well. When she landed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) she felt at home but she didn’t resign herself to the sadness of the orphaned and malnourished children. She taught them to sing, to play, but above all to smile. The songs by Bana Congo – the name of the musical group created by Tânia Trindade – have already captivated the attention of Joss Stone, who recorded a video clip with the group last year.

Tânia Trindade has always liked airplanes. She even dreamt becoming a pilot, but her mother wanted her to continue studying. She decided to enter Técnico and study Aerospace Engineering. During the course she met her husband, Pedro, who also likes music. “We have many mutual interests and very similar personalities. Music is part of our daily lives”, she highlights.

After finishing her course at Técnico, she did an internship at Portugália / TAP. Then she was Business Development and Project Management at Tekever, in the area of Smart Grids and UAVs. “Técnico was essential in my professional career because it allowed me not to be afraid of any challenge. I soon realised that managing and leading a team was what I liked most”, says the alumna. On the other hand “being in front of a computer all day, leaving home early in the morning and arriving home at night made me feel empty”, says Tânia Trindade. “I am a dreamer and I felt a void inside me that told me to take risks”, she confesses.

Tânia Trindade was born in the DRC, but she was forced to leave at the age of five due to the war. “My parents were forced to take me to Portugal, with my older sister. We were both living with my paternal grandparents. My parents were always postponing our return to Congo due to the political volatility”, recalls the Técnico alumna. School holidays were always a reasonable ground for returning to the DRC. “I always felt very attached to that country. It meant a lot to me: the humidity and smells of the tropics when I left the plane, the street movement, the vegetation, the smile of the Congolese people, the freedom”, she shares. the good memories and the willingness to change made Tânia Trindade return to the DRC in 2012.

“Music will always be an integral part of my dreams”

Music became part of her life at a very early age. “When I was 5, I started studying music with a very respected and demanding teacher. At the age of 9, I took the admission exam to enter Conservatório Nacional de Lisboa and Instituto Gregoriano de Lisboa. I was accepted in both”, she recalls. “My grandmother thought that Conservatório was too big and impersonal, and she preferred Instituto Gregoriano de Lisboa, which was much smaller and more familiar”. She considered following a career in music, but she quickly realised that “I would not be happy just having a classical music career”.

“Music is a universal language that allows us to communicate with the world in such a simple way. It teach us to accept and respect the whole world, without criticism or judgment ”, she says. “Music will always be an integral part of my dreams”, she adds.

“I couldn’t ignore this situation and, above all, I couldn’t confine myself to my duties”

Tânia Trindade felt like “home” as soon as she landed in the DRC. She took her husband to this adventure. “I have never regretted driving this change, because everything we learnt here was very enriching, both personally and professionally. We couldn’t have had a better experience in our lives”, she stresses.

The two Técnico alumni were invited to work in a wood company. Pedro was department manager and Tânia was responsible for the studies and sustainable management of the company, namely a hospital located in a village 600km from Kinshasa. “I was also responsible for accounting, human resources management and project management with international organisations such as WWF, GIZ, Caritas, UNICEF, etc.”, she recalls.

In the hospital, Tânia Trindade had contact with several children and young people who suffered from severe malnutrition. “One of the hospital’s building hosts a nutritional recovery centre created by AMI in 2007, which welcomes 30 to 40 children and young people daily, who arrive helpless and on the verge of death”, she says. “These children had a look of despair, sadness, fear, loneliness … like I had never seen before. Malnutrition causes cognitive, motor and concentration development delays. I couldn’t ignore this situation and, above all, I couldn’t confine myself to my duties”, says the Técnico alumna.

Tânia Trindade watched the children and young people for several months, trying to understand how she could try to improve their lives.

“Communication would not be easy because I did not speak their dialect (lingala); their culture and beliefs made us more distant. I told Pedro every day that I had to make those kids smile again, and I remembered music”, she recalls.

In September 2012 she decided to take her guitar to the hospital and start singing some simple Christmas songs. Nobody wanted to sing or listen. “I felt that I was invading their personal space and their sadness. I felt shy and I walked away. I confined myself to my duties as manager of the hospital ”, she shares.

However, after some time, Tânia Trindade rethought her strategy, with the support of a colleague from the nutritional recovery centre. “We had a very shy Christmas party in 2012, but in 2013 they started to dance and sing at the same time. The number of children increased year after year and the project hasn’t stopped growing ”, she says. “I started to notice that when I left the hospital, many children who heard the rehearsals outside asked me to join the group. These children, who were ignored, teased and accused of witchcraft became the idols of all the children of Nioki [name of the village]”, she shares.

The Técnico alumna and her husband, decided to build a music school outside the hospital, free and open to all children. “We had to limit the access because we have no support to increase the school size. In addition to choir classes, all children learn solfeggio and play an instrument: piano or guitar”, she says.

“It was great to see this project recognised, especially by these people”

A large part of the kids who joined Bana Congo project in 2012, continue to attend music lessons. “They don’t miss any rehearsal. The older ones have an incredible performance on stage and inspire the younger ones”, highlights Tânia Trindade. In 2016, the group recorded a CD with original songs “in an attempt to make the group known”, shares the alumna. “In 2018, I created a Facebook page because I felt that this project had grown so much and it was so special, at least for me, that it couldn’t be known only in Nioki”, she says.

Some time later, Tânia Trindade received a facebook message from Joss Stone manager asking for more information about the project. “They really wanted to share the stage with the children, in Kinshasa, on the occasion of JSWT – Joss Stone World Tour, in May 2019”, recalls the alumna. “I couldn’t believe it and I had mixed feelings; I just wanted to tell the world what was going on”, she shares.

Tânia Trindade would have the opportunity not only to meet her teen idol, but also to provide this unique opportunity to her children. “We had the opportunity to share many moments with her. A genuine bond was created between Joss Stone, the project, the children, and us”, she says. According to the alumna, the most striking moment was the Bana Congo video clip with Joss Stone. “As she said, the performance, originality and talent of those children surpassed everything they had seen and felt, after visiting one hundred and ninety-six countries, as part of their World Tour. Joss Stone also added that those kids will have to go to England one day to a music festival”, recalls Tânia Trindade.” It was great to see this project recognised, especially by these people”, points out the former student.

“Music gave them the ability to memorise, to concentrate and, above all, music gave them hope”

“Before joining this project, these children were rejected, discredited and teased for having suffered from malnutrition. They became respected and admired by everyone. They have become an inspiration for all other children who arrive sick at the nutrition centre”, says Tânia Trindade. “This project gave them self-confidence and courage to be good students at school. The Bana Congo project takes charge of the studies of all these children. Music gave them the ability to memorise, to concentrate and, above all, music gave them hope ”, stresses the alumna.

Assuming herself an accomplished woman capable of making a difference every day, the Técnico alumna shares her dreams: “I would like very much that our documentary on this project became an international reference. In this way, through some supports, opportunities would be created to expand the project to other regions here in the Congo and eventually to other countries”, she explains. “I believe that everytime we do something we like, with commitment and altruism, a kind of ‘sparkling star’ can lead us on a path full of good surprises”, she stresses.

“It doesn’t matter where we are or who you have beside you. Regardless of colour, religion, culture, there is always a way to contribute to a better world and through music we understand very well that we are all equal”, she says. “If everyone took a minute during the day to think of someone who needs more than we do, and kindly acted, we would live in fairer world,” she says.