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story.lead_photo.caption Pickerington middle school student Safiatou Diallo, 10, founded an organization called Greater Purpose Africa to collect school supplies for children in Guinea, West Africa. She holds a sign she made to spread the word about her project. (Fred Squillante/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

Safiatou Diallo’s trip back home to Guinea, West Africa, in 2019 left a lasting impression on her.

The now 10-year-old Pickerington, Ohio, student remembers seeing children walking barefoot to school carrying their school supplies in their arms — if they had any at all. Some even carried their books and pens in plastic bags.

Safiatou, who attends Harmon Middle School, knew she had to do something to help.

So this past spring she founded the Greater Purpose Africa, which raises money to buy school supplies for elementary school students in Mamou, a central city in Guinea. Her grandfather is the mayor there.

“It’s fun to do it because I know I’m helping kids,” said Safiatou, a sixth-grader. “I don’t even know them, but it’s fun to help people that we don’t know.”

The whole idea was born from an assignment by her fourth-grade teacher, who asked each student to come up with a business plan for class; she wanted to help children in West Africa. With her dad’s help, she wrote about her desire to start the Greater Purpose Africa group.

But then COVID-19 shut down schools in March 2020, so she wasn’t able to get her charitable group off the ground yet.

When she returned to in-person classes in fifth grade, she approached Harmon’s Principal Jared Moore with her plan and Greater Purpose Africa took off.

“I’m deeply, deeply proud of her,” Moore said. “She didn’t have to do any of that. She could have been Tik Toking and (playing) Fortnite like everybody else.”

She started collecting school supplies and raising money in April. Moore mentioned Greater Purpose Africa every day during school announcements. And Safiatou hung posters around the Pickerington school and in May launched a GoFundMe campaign in an attempt to raise $5,000.

So far, Greater Purpose Africa has raised $820 and collected 23 backpacks for the first shipment of school supplies, which arrived June 12 at Bowoun Djoungol Elementary School in Mamou.

“Now they know that this organization can provide that for them,” said Safiatou’s mom, Nene Diallo, 32. “That’s really going to give them the courage to go to school.”

Safiatou grandfather, Elhadji Tidiane Diallo, helped distribute the shipment of supplies at the school. The students didn’t know they were going to receive the goodies, so it was a surprise. All 52 students were able to get school supplies, and some even cried tears of joy.

“They were so happy and so grateful,” Nene Diallo said.

To show their gratitude, the students hung up a banner outside their school saying “Thank you/Merci Greater Purpose Africa.”

“I was happy because they were happy,” Safiatou said.

Guinea, which has a population of 13.4 million, has plenty of natural resources, but 55 percent of people live in poverty, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

Mamou had a population of nearly 341,000 in 2016, according to Knoema, a global data collector.

“I feel so bad and sad for these kids back home because here everything is easy,” Nene Diallo said. “Kids don’t have to worry about school supplies here or anything like that, but that’s the first thing they need to worry about.”

Safiatou was born in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, which is about a five-hour drive from Mamou in 2010. Her family moved to New York in 2013 before coming to Columbus in 2016 in search of a better place to raise their four children, two girls and two boys.

It makes Safiatou happy when she helps others and she wants to be a third-grade teacher when she grows up.

Safiatou wants to continue raising money to buy school supplies, but she has loftier plans for the nonprofit: “To try and get them a new school building,” she said.

She hopes to raise $5,000 by next summer to build a new school.

The current building lets in rain and wind, so poor weather can derail classes, said Safiatou’s mother.

“She just likes to donate a lot,” said her mom. “I can see a future in her project because it’s something she wants.”

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