Mrs. Bari lost her husband Abdoulaye “Djibril” Barry during one of the violent repressions in Guinea that were customary under the dictatorship of Sékou Touré. Twenty-five years ago, she created a non-governmental organization that supports women, the disabled, and the rural population of Guinea.
Global Voices (GV): How did you end up in Guinea?
Nadine Bari (NB): I first arrived in Guinea in January of 1964 to follow my Guinean husband. We were both quite thrilled to have the opportunity to put our diplomas and youthful energy to use for the development of the newly independent nation (not for the regime at the time though). My husband disappeared in 1971. The first book I wrote, “Grain de sable” was about my quest to find out the truth about his death (the documentary “I was still waiting for you yesterday” directed by Catherine Veaux-Logeat also retraced this quest).
GV: Tell us about your organization?
NB: It is called Guinée-Solidarité (GS). It was established in Strasbourg, France in 1987. During two trips to Guinea in 1985 and 1986, I could not help but take notice of the economic and social downfall of the country. For instance, in Koundara-Youkounkoun, I was stupefied to see that the school of Ouros did not have benches for the students. They had to bring their own seat otherwise they were not allowed in class. In one classroom, the teacher used an electricity mast that had fallen down as a desk for the kids. The health center had very little medication in stock, some were even expired. With the photos that my daughter took, we raised awareness in our church in Strasbourg. One of the choir singers worked for a transportation company and offered to fill a few containers with materials that we collected from hospitals, schools and companies in Alsace and send them to Guinea. That's how everything started.
GV: How did Guinée-Solidarité help reduce the impact of poverty in Guinea?
NB: We targeted the villages that were kind of forgotten by international aid. The ones that were difficult to reach and especially downtrodden, in the Guinean forest and in Northern Guinea. In 1986-87, we were shocked to see that the patients in the hospital in the village of Mali (in the Fouta-Djallon region) were sleeping on the floor. We raised awareness again in Alsace and the surrounding regions to collect medical materials. In total, 7 state hospitals, 12 health centers and 18 health units benefited from the initiative. One of our priorities was to help the disabled (either the crippled, blind or socially outcast groups). We trained some of them in the use of bicycles or tricycles.
GV: What is Guinée-Solidarité doing specifically for women?
NB: We have helped create a clothing workshop where women imprint an indigo dye on fabrics. We also support widows who are gardening in Fello Wendou in the Fouta-Djalon region. We were able to get funds from Switzerland to plant indigo trees. The project began in 2007 and it builds on the skills of Fulani women and how they weave traditional fabrics. Unfortunately, the chinese textile industry has now injected the local market with cheaper fabrics at a cost with which we cannot compete if we wish to sustain our workers.
GV: Educating poor and disabled children is one of your major success stories. How did you go about the project?
NB: In la Cité de Solidarité, a neighborhood of Conakry [the capital] known to be the homeless and beggars quarter, we knew of at least 450 disabled people. None knew how to read. We found 80 of them, mostly girls and children, sponsors in France, Spain and Belgium. The criteria to benefit from a sponsor was that the child had to be an orphan or disabled. Many begging children – even the blind ones – were able to attend college, at Gamal Abdel Nasser or Sonfonia University in Conakry. A library was opened for the children of la Cité and the neighborhood Jean-Paul II. It is very well-attended. We even installed solar panels to provide electricity on a regular basis.
Guinée-Solidarité has 4 main branches: Strasbourg, Marseille (that has been financing a major rehabilitation center for the disabled in Mamou), Paris and Conakry.