Almost 6,500 miles from Seattle, snuggled between Senegal and Sierra Leone on Africa’s west coast, lies Guinea, West Africa. Although the nation is approximately the same size as the state of Oregon, its population is much larger; 10 million people call Guinea home, compared to Oregon’s four-million residents. And of those 10 million, approximately half of Guineans live in or around the capital city of Conakry.
Unlike many of its neighboring African countries, Guinea is not plagued with deforestation and drought but instead boasts rich regions of agriculture and rainforests. It is also rich with bauxite, which is considered to be the most important aluminum ore. Guinea is the world’s fourth largest supplier of bauxite, and it is believed that the nation holds almost half of the world’s reserves.
Despite these natural resources, Guinea is still a developing country and therefore nearly all its residents live in poverty. Malnutrition is rampant among Guineans. They suffer from lack of sufficient health care. Most are without basic services such as running water and electricity. And because they also lack an effective educational system, this is a reality that is unlikely to change.
Unfortunately, this is the mask of Africa that we all know too well. We Americans grow up with the image of a poor, hungry, overpopulated, disease-filled Africa. And unfortunately for us, we so rarely are allowed to glimpse the true face of Africa. Few of us know what it is like to be inspired by Africa; and even fewer get the opportunity to experience Guinea’s greatest resource – her people.
Imagine what your life would be like without the benefit of a solid education. Which menial tasks would suddenly become burdensome chores? Would you be able to count proper change at the grocery store? Would you be able to catch the correct bus to work? Perhaps you might be able to handle one or both of those tasks. But could you complete a job application? Or would you know the importance of good hygiene?
The Guinea Kids Education Fund makes an impact. Statistics show that each year a child spends in school in a developing nation increases their earning power by 10-percent. And we agree with author Ben Sweetland’s summation on the power of education, “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”
In 2019, Guinea Kids Education Fund (GKEF) restructured it’s mission, vision and board to add healthcare as an integral component of supporting a stronger, healthier Guinea. You can read more about Guinea Kids Health & Education Fund Board of Directors here.
Marissa Baratian is a preschool teacher at New Discovery School in Seattle. She has loved working at this community-oriented school since 1997. She is also a dance instructor for young children sharing dances from around the world, specifically Guinea, giving the children she teaches exposure to a greater global community and awareness.
Her previous role with Guinea Kids is that of founder and communications writer. She has also been in the role of event planner and coordinator, and speaker.
She was inspired to start GKEF when preparing to take her first trip to Guinea to study traditional dance in 2007 with Karim Koumbassa. She was inspired to give back in a meaningful way to this culture that had given her so much joy through music and dance for 14 years! As a teacher of young children in a school community that values their children and education, she clearly saw an opportunity to make a connection with the children in Guinea and to make a difference because of it.