In our country, like in other countries in this region of the world, there is mistrust of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (national or international). Often NGOs are established with a mandate to help children, but after they receive funding, the organizations disappear. This creates an overall distrust in the entire system of NGOs and philanthropy here. This is really misfortunate because, in the end, it simply hurts the children. But, it is the sad reality of our country, and hence, private corporations and states do not trust NGOs. What can be done?
This situation, and our fight to change it, became monumental when I, as Country Director, began the work of fundraising within Guinea to support our work here. At all levels, we had to prove that we are a serious NGO and our sincere intention is to help street children and the most vulnerable children here. Thus, it takes time to win the trust of our potential partners.
To do this, we organized visits to our center from schools who can recommend us or help our program directly in Guinea. We invited them to visit our center and to observe the reality of our activities. This involved us sharing our dance program and how it develops learning skills in children as well as creating access to our English language program. Indeed, these school representatives saw the beautiful – but needy – children that exist, and how essential is this support.
The problem is not the potential of these children, but rather, that their circumstances have resulted in diminished skills and learning opportunities. These children have even been victims of other organizations’ manipulation. The problem is extensive to the point where parents hesitate before bringing their children to a new program that claims to provide essential assistance to children. Organizations must show concretely how they will help children and what benefits result from the intervention according to a known timeframe.
It is in this context that MindLeaps hopes to contribute to the general situation in Guinea. We consider part of our job to demonstrate that NGOs can operate effectively here. The youth who attend MindLeaps speak openly about the change they feel in their lives. This is important to continue and to amplify.
My advice to children is to focus on long-term goals. Perhaps they will not learn to speak English in just a few weeks; they will not (intentionally) be given food, clothing and shelter upon showing up at our gate. Instead, programs will reward and reinforce their own commitment to changing their lives and pave a way for that to successfully happen.
With a little hope, I am convinced that private organizations, the public, Embassies and others will see that NGOs can – and must – properly help youth in Guinea.