Please take the time to read this letter if you can. We ask for help to get six young men from a miserable African country - Guinée - to study in Europe. It is a long story. I would like to explain how we started this project and why.
Working as a journalist for Dutch Public Television - first current affairs, later documentaries - I have seen a lot of misery, war, hunger and injustice in many continents of this planet. Journalists are supposed to report in an objective way and to keep at a distance. But sometimes it is hard nót to take sides, sometimes it is almost impossible nót to take a stand. This is a cry for help from a crazy Dutch tv crew that for once stepped out of its professional role.
In 1999 I was sent to Conakry in Guinée (West Africa) to do research for a documentary about two African boys, Yaguine (14) and Fodé (15) who tried to escape their hopeless life in the slums of their capital, swarmed with refugees from the civil wars in the neighbouring countries Sierra Leone and Liberia. Somehow they succeeded in slipping into the landing gear of a Sabena Airbus on the military airport of Conakry.
They had no idea that they would encounter temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius below zero and that, so very high up in the sky, they would lack the necessary oxygen in their horrible hiding place. They hoped to reach paradise - Europe - but instead they found death: they were miraculously not crashed by the huge wheels of the plane, but they froze and suffocated.
For two days they became front-page news all over the world. Not because they were dead. They became famous because apparently foreseeing the worst, they had wrapped a letter they wrote into a plastic bag, so it didnt decompose, along with their bodies. This letter was addressed to all the leaders of Europe. In it, they asked for help in the name of all the children in Africa who lack food, health, peace and education. This letter did move the world, but it lasted only two days
I researched the lives of these two boys, interviewed their parents, teachers, schoolmates and tried to reconstruct their lives up to their escape. It is difficult to make a film about dead people. So I looked for a boy who cóuld have been Yaguine or Fodé, who might have had the courage and despair to escape from their fate, knowingly risking their lives.
I found Ibrahime Diallo, who was 18 years old at the time. He lived and talked the way these two deceased boys had lived and spoken.
In May 2000 I returned to Conakry with a film crew to make what became our awarded documentary (2nd award for best documentary at the International San Francisco Golden Gate film festival ) Dear Europe. You will find an enclosed copy of this documentary on DVD with this letter. It was shown on many festivals and broadcasted several times on television in Europe.
The film is a reconstruction of the lives of Yaguine and Fodé, with Ibrahime as a narrator and as our guide. The letter the boys wrote is like a red thread throughout the whole film. The film moved many people.
My crew and I - hardened by the Yugoslav war, the middle east conflict, the misery in Asia, Africa, Russia and other former east block countries - decided that for ONCE in our professional life we would not only report to let the world know what was going on, but that we would actually DO something about it.
We took a stand. And: we took an oath.
We promised to send every 3 months money to Ibrahime Diallo, our protagonist in the film, who had stolen our hearts because of his exceptional intelligence, optimism, his strength and his desire to study and become somebody special to help his country. We appointed a woman to supervise him and his schoolwork. We did not send this money to help him survive. We supported him to finish his school and our intention was to get him to study in Europe, preferably in France, because in Guinée education is in French.
For the last seven years my crew and I (the cameraman, my colleague reporter and myself) managed to support Ibrahime, although of course we have children and other financial obligations of our own - and Public Television doesnt pay that well. Ibrahime finished his secondary school with excellent grades, subsequently we got him into a local private university where to our great pride he finished law last year. Meanwhile he took the initiative to learn English and do a computer course. Now he is trying to survive by himself, since a local law-degree doesnt get one anywhere, especially if one is not wealthy or connected to the regime of this country.
All the time weve had in mind to find a way to have him study in Europe. I did everything I could to get money from all kinds of organizations and funds to bring him to a university in France or to get him a scholarship. But my relentless efforts failed time and again. I did NOT succeed in finding the money to send him to a European university. There are four main reasons why:
1) In France and Belgium scholarships are distributed by the respective governments to the totally corrupt government of Guinée. Boys like Ibrahime have no chance at all to get such a scholarship, because he does not belong to a family who is befriended with the Guinean president Conté or his circle of corrupt politicians.
2) Every foundation or organization answered my request for financial support to get Ibrahime to an university that they dont do anything for one individual. They only do big projects: schools for handicapped kids, orphanages, projects that involve more children or students, not just one. For Ibrahime as a student all by himself, I could not get a single penny.
3) I myself was not considered accountable, because as a journalist I am a private person, not a known charity or foundation. Apparently the fact my colleagues and I had paid for Ibrahims education so far didnt count for much.
4) When I started to approach some rich individuals - mostly from America - whom I know from a Greek island where I used to live as a correspondent for the Balkans during the Yugoslav war, I encountered yet another obstacle. These people know me personally and they trust me. They said they eventually would want to give money, but they needed a trustworthy charity foundation to support my Ibrahime-study project, because only then they would be able to deduct their donations from their taxes in the States.
My own financial resources are exhausted. I am a single mom and it is with great difficulty that I manage to send my own two kids to university. The rest of my crew has no money either.
All of the above has lead me to set up a study project in the name of the two dead boys: Yaguine&Fod;é Study Project.
I sought the help and support from the NIMBA foundation: an admirable initiative of two Dutch ladies who set up a small school for handicapped children in Conakry. Children at the Nimba school not only get an education, but are also taught a craft so they can eventually survive on their own.
NIMBA was enthusiastic to adopt my project. It is a sound foundation, accountable for its financial procedures, through its publicly published annual reports. One of the board members traveled to Conakry last Christmas to meet Ibrahime. She selected five other boys who - although they lived in terrible circumstances - somehow managed to go through local university and who ALL finished their studies. An achievement of Olympic dimensions, because most of them did not even get the kind of help which Ibrahime at least got from my crew and me. The candidates are boys, since the few girls they found have it much easier finding support from foundations and NGOs than Guinean boys.
So now there is NIMBA to embrace the Yaguine&Fod;é Study Project and we have 6 students, Ibrahime and 5 others, whom we try to get to study at a French university, preferably the University of Poitiers. The procedure to get them registered is a nightmare of French bureaucracy. We need about 1400 Euro a month per student plus take off money for passports, visa, (around 500 Euro) and a plane ticket (around 1500 Euro).and some to be paid to corrupt Guinean civil servants in order to speed up their application which otherwise would take 5 years. Above all: we need about 2000 euro before the end of March 2007 so their registration forms will be accepted by the respective French universities. (http:⁄⁄guinee.campusfrance.org⁄fr⁄campusfrance-guina-c-e⁄15.html)
They need 4 years for their studies. We are looking at roughly 17.000 Euro per year per student. That is 68.000 Euro for one, and 408.000 Euro for all 6.
Please look at www.nimba.nl , a special link to the Yaguine&Fod;é Study Project is in the making and should be available in March 2007.
These students do need your help. We are trying for big donations.
I have carefully selected some wealthy individuals whom I know personally and you and your organization because I know that although this money is totally out of reach for us, let alone for these boys, you have the means and resources to help them so that they can realize their dream, study and make a difference in their country.
The account number you see on the left side op the first page is a special account number for the Yaguine&Fod;é Study Project. Because of NIMBA, all donations are tax deductible. The general account number for NIMBAs school in Conakry you will find on the website. If we get enough money for our students, we want to give 2 percent to NIMBA as a thank you for hosting our study project and to help the handicapped children who would have never gone to school at all had it not been for NIMBA.
We hope you will find all the information you need on the Internet. (When you klick on the Brittish flag, the texts are in English)
But if you want to ask more questions, please do not hesitate to mail or call me.
Guinée was going through a rough time when we made our film, recently there were riots and demonstrations all over the country to force the president to resign. Many young people died this past month, trying to change the corrupt system. With great difficulty I managed to keep Ibrahime and his friends to stay at home, to nót go into the streets and get themselves killed. Because we had invested so much in Ibrahime, he obeyed. But he explained to me that he felt like a traitor, sitting in his house while many of his student friends were being beaten by the military police.
Times are still troubled, civil war is always on the brink, life conditions are only getting worse and yet there are always bright and resourceful young people who do not give up hope.
We would like to honor that amazing lust for life and education.
I will say no more, please look at our film Dear Europe., it will tell you what you need to know.
I hope with all my heart that you can and will help.