of Guineans live below the poverty line.
of girls are married by the age of 18, and 21% by the age of 15. (UNICEF, 2017)
of the population age 25 and older has not completed primary education.
Based on the most recent World Bank survey data, 43.7 percent of Guineans lived below the national poverty line in 2018, equivalent to 5.8 million people living in poverty. In Conakry, the youth who come to the MindLeaps program have no access to basic needs: education, food, or hygiene services. They are susceptible to abuse, trafficking and hunger, while dealing with severe health risks on a daily basis. The Ebola epidemic of 2014-2016 had devastating health and socio-economic effects on the country. Post-Ebola, the number of out-of-school children increased from 381,963 in 2014 to 425,413 in 2016. This was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the several long-term effects on school-age children, reports have shown that globally as many as 24 million additional children will permanently drop out of school due to the break in education from COVID-19 (UNICEF, 2020), adding to the 258 million currently out of school worldwide.
The MindLeaps Center in Conakry
MindLeaps began working in Guinea in 2011 through partnerships with other organizations, and in 2017 went on to open its own center in the capital city of Conakry, providing a permanent safe space to continue its full dance and education programs. Since 2017, over 400 children have completed the MindLeaps Dance & Data program at the MindLeaps Center in Conakry.
The center’s all Guinean staff serves vulnerable and at-risk children and youth through the MindLeaps Dance & Data program, with its curriculum designed to develop critical cognitive and social-emotional skills. Children come to the center to attend a “fun dance class” but are actually participating in a carefully structured kinesthetic-based curriculum that develops the ability to concentrate, memorize and use language, while also cultivating teamwork, discipline, grit, creativity, and self-esteem, all skills needed for success in school and life.
The work of the center extends well beyond the core dance program. Dance classes are accompanied by academic acceleration classes such as English and French. Further educational support is provided through after-school tutoring, IT classes and school sponsorship. MindLeaps’ holistic approach includes a daily meal program, health and sanitation programs, sexual and reproductive health workshops, home visits and links to social services that reach out to the families and community as well.
MindLeaps also runs Train The Trainer programs at the center to prepare new teachers in the MindLeaps methodology. Train The Trainer brings in dance teachers from across Guinea and other African countries, so they can learn and disseminate the curriculum and grading system (Tracker) to a broad range of communities with vulnerable children. In this way, after training and empowering African trainers, MindLeaps can help more and more at-risk children through this sustainable, expanding program.
Our New Center
In 2023, MindLeaps opened its new center for arts and education in Nongo, Conakry. Planning for the building project was led by our Country Director, Martin Mamadouno, and Finance Manager, Aissatou Diallo. The center of 38,000 square feet is housing the head office of MindLeaps Guinea, two main dance studios, three classrooms for English and French lessons, and a cafeteria to feed 160 children per day. There are bathrooms and changing rooms for boys and girls. In partnership with Orange Fondation, there is also a Maison Digitale (Women’s Digital Dreams Lab), which provides crucial access to technology for older women in the community. Overall, this new structure serves as a community center and the heart of MindLeaps’ operations in Africa.
Broadway artist Apollo Levine will join US Ambassador Fitrell in a community wide celebration to inaugurate the MindLeaps Center in Nongo, Conakry, on Saturday, February 25th. The ceremony will celebrate the power of the arts in building opportunities for youth and highlight plans for increased US-Guinea partnerships in education, artistic opportunities and travel.
*Before we started building
Ten-year-old Abdoulaye lived with his stepmother in Conakry, Guinea. He had to drop out of primary school because his family could not continue paying for his education. Abdoulaye has five siblings and, just like many other children in Guinea, he had to become responsible for himself at a very young age and try to get by largely on his own.
When he joined MindLeaps, Abdoulaye discovered his passion for dance and quickly became one of our best students. He thrived and became the leader of his class, learning all of the terms and moves so he could soon teach the 45-minute warmup by himself. He would stand front and center in every class, listening to and understanding every correction given in the dance classes. His memorization skills grew tremendously. He could watch another class do five minutes of choreography, and the next day he remembered everything he saw and was able to perform it in front of everyone. Abdoulaye is affectionately called “short boy” because of his small stature, but his confidence is enormous.
In August 2019, Abdoulaye completed the Dance & Data program and was sponsored by MindLeaps to return to formal education. His experience with MindLeaps and returning to school have sparked his dream of becoming a doctor. Abdoulaye says he wants to be able to help his family and community in times of illness, and now sees a path to doing just that.
The Dance & Data program is accompanied by academic acceleration classes in English and French for the duration of time students are enrolled at MindLeaps. English and French language lessons in comprehension, reading, and writing are provided to all students, three classes per week. Further support is given to MindLeaps youth in school through the center’s After-School Program, offering tutoring in English and French. MindLeaps also runs a Community English Program, open to youth and adults in the community who are not otherwise participating in MindLeaps programs. The Community English Program offers them an opportunity to improve the English language skills needed to advance their education and help them find employment. Students successfully completing the Dance & Data program may be sponsored for either academic education or vocational training. Sponsorship covers school fees, uniforms, supplies, essential meal support and health insurance. In 2021, 203 students from MindLeaps Guinea were sponsored in school. To learn more about the program and become a sponsor, go to https://mindleaps.org/sponsorship
Women’s Digital Dreams Center
The Women’s Digital Dreams Center opened at MindLeaps in Conakry in late 2021. This was made possible through the generous support of La Fondation Orange Guinée, which provided technological equipment including 20 new tablets, 10 computers, 2 Wi-Fi antennas, a projector, printer and more. The center is a place for unemployed, vulnerable women in the community to connect to the outside world, access information, and develop critical skills needed to seek formal employment.
Over the course of the first year of operations, 75 young women between the ages of 16 and 35 will be participating in digital literacy classes taught in French. Topics covered range from the basic introduction of computer hardware and software, to file management and using applications, to navigating the Internet and communicating via email and video platforms.
Today, 25 students are enrolled in the current cohort. The Digital Dreams Center has been a resounding success in bringing technological skills to young women in our community.
Health and Nutrition
The daily meal program at the center ensures that children do not face food insecurity while learning at MindLeaps. In 2021, Mindleaps Guinea served over 26,000 meals to the children and youth in its program.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, when the MindLeaps center was forced to close, dance instructors and administrative staff took on the role of emergency relief workers. They initiated a system of monthly distributions of food and sanitation supplies. During the shutdown, MindLeaps staff hand delivered rice, sugar, and sanitation supplies to 130 local families.
MindLeaps Guinea continues to address sanitation and health issues vital to the well-being of our children. In 2018, support from the United Nations Women’s Guild of Vienna (UNWG) was given to MindLeaps to expand its capacity to serve the health and safety needs of the children. By adding access to water tanks, a solar water heater and a proper cooking stove, MindLeaps was able to provide children with clean water, nutritional meal supplements and sanitation kits. The children have clean water to drink and they are able to shower and learn basic sanitation practices. They can wash their clothes at the center since their living conditions often lack access to water and soap.
In addition to UNWG, the local chapter of Leo Club Dame de Loura of the Lions Club International of Guinea has provided each child with a personal sanitation kit containing a t-shirt, towel, shoes, toothbrush, jogging pants, water bottle, nail clippers, shower gel and sanitary pads for the girls. In partnership with Vertice, MindLeaps has also delivered sanitary napkins and hygiene kits to students at the center who are participating in the After-School Program.
In late 2021, MindLeaps Guinea launched the “Dancing – Learning – Healing” program sponsored by the US Embassy. The program aims to increase awareness of Guinea’s COVID-19 vaccination initiatives, boost local knowledge of public health matters, and involve women and girls as leaders. A dance performance group from MindLeaps Guinea will be touring the country throughout 2022 with a performance designed to increase community awareness about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
In 2020, MindLeaps Guinea launched Sexual and Reproductive Health Workshops for girls at the center. The courses are taught by two of our female staff members, Madame Thiam and Jenneh Jabie. The workshops follow a curriculum that addresses the complex elements of communication, self-worth, family issues and cultural expectations that affect girls and boys. Focusing on healthy relationships, gender equity, communication and consent is as much a part of this curriculum as puberty, hygiene and reproductive biology. Girls learn how to practice safe sex, and how to prevent diseases and unwanted pregnancies. The program aims to promote healthy practices and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being.
Through its Virtual Academy, MindLeaps continued to engage students and further their education during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Though today in-person classes are again fully operational, the Virtual Academy continues to serve students and support their education.
The Virtual Academy serves not only MindLeaps students, but through a grant from the Julia Taft Fund, was made available to refugee and returnee youth as well.
Learn more about the Virtual Academy at https://mindleaps.org/en/virtual-academy/
Julia Taft Grant
Established in 2000, the Julia Taft Fund awards grants every year with the goal of closing gaps in refugee aid, by issuing grants to local nonprofit organizations for quick-impact projects.
Supported by the Julia Taft Fund, MindLeaps Guinea provided 32 refugee and returnee youth with access to the MindLeaps Virtual Academy. They completed six subjects: Digital Literacy, Business Entrepreneurship, Project Management & Budgeting, Communications, Child Development, and Inclusion.
During this period, youth demonstrating the most promising work and commitment to their businesses and community projects were selected for two special events showcasing their talents: A Pitch Session with Judges (February26th, 2021) and Conversations with MindLeaps (April 2nd, 2021). Participants got feedback from the judges, and at the conclusion of the project, ten youth received $350 USD each in seed funding to start their businesses.