27 reputable foundations in Holland backed by Dutch development aid experts are calling on donors and philanthropists not to give money to an unknown organization, raking thousands of euros in Holland purportedly to construct two orphanages in The Gambia. The Dutch experts’ criticism focuses on Shared Humanity, a four-month-old foundation that claims it is currently “building two children’s homes in the western Gambia.”
Shared Humanity that shares little about its true identity
Little is known in Holland about Shared Humanity. The organization had a fundraiser on social media, raising more than 30 thousand euros in an hour. The foundation claims that it intends to provide care for 200 children in The Gambia who no longer have parents or are victims of sexual abuse or human trafficking.
The foundation is not registered with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, has no concrete plan of action or financial substantiation on its website, no CBF quality mark (quality mark for charities), and the donors’ money is collected in the private account of the founder. These are enough red flags for the donor, says Thea Hilhorst, professor of humanitarian aid at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. “Think about what you’re spending your money on. If you do not approach these types of projects very carefully with good governance, supervision, and trained employees, the risk of abuse lurks. Unfortunately, there are countless examples around the world where vulnerable children ended up in the wrong hands. As donors, we fall too easily for the story: Oh Africa, pathetic orphans, we have to help them.”
The motivations behind the fundraiser have not convinced the media in Holland and several Dutch experts on humanitarian aid.
Kristen Cheney, a researcher on the so-called “orphanage industry,” is also an affiliate of the International Institute of Social Studies at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. Cheney did a lot of research in Uganda and advocates for more financial support for African families rather than the construction of orphanages.
According to Kristen Cheney, “This isn’t even about orphans. Approximately 80 percent of these children have at least one living parent. Father and mother often bring their offspring out of sheer poverty at the shelter, hoping that they will eat there three times a day and receive free education. So much money is being pumped into these boarding schools from abroad that there remains a perverse incentive to lure children to these institutions.”
Cheney’s criticism is shared by 27 foundations affiliated with #EveryChildAFamily in a campaign spearheaded by Dutch journalist Charlotte Simons of Vice magazine. Last week, Charlotte sent an open letter to Laïla Belkerma, founder of Shared Humanity, and to Dutch beauty celebrity Monica Geuze who embraced the fundraiser.
Gambian children with trauma as bait to celebrities on Instagram
Simons denounces, among other things, how Shared Humanity built attention in Holland about the Gambian construction project. The Shared Humanity fundraisers published uncensored photos of Gambian children who had been allegedly raped, abandoned, or disabled on Instagram. In her open letter addressed to one of the fundraisers, Charlotte Simons wrote: “Monica, you consciously choose to keep your daughter out of the media. So why is it suddenly permissible to share less fortunate, vulnerable, black children recognizable on your Instagram Stories — including traumatized kids?” Simons asked.
Freshly proclaimed most beautiful woman in the Netherlands 2021 by men’s magazine FHM, Youtuber star and presenter Monica Geuze unknowingly embraced the fundraiser to construct children’s homes in The Gambia. Another famous Dutch celebrity, rapper Ali Bouali, known professionally as Ali B, also supported the initiative.
Following the fierce campaign by the organizations and the Dutch media, Monica Geuze wrote a reply to Charlotte Simons, the journalist, where the Dutch beauty queen concedes that she ‘didn’t think about it properly. “With my reach – 1.2 million followers – I wanted to do something good. I was struck by the images I received from Belkerma from the Gambia”. The beauty celebrity and the fundraiser knew each other from an earlier collaboration at “Free a Girl,” an organization where Belkerma worked until last year. Yet, Monica Geuze said: “In hindsight, this shouldn’t have happened. We are pleased that you have alerted us to the fact that the money may be better used in other places.”
Ali B also knew Laïla Belkerma, founder of Shared Humanity that claims to help Gambian kids through her previous employer, Free a Girl. “When Laïla asked me for the post (on Instagram, ed.) I did so based on my good experiences with Free a Girl. I hope there is no misunderstanding. I am waiting – like everyone else – for a statement from Shared Humanity. For the rest, I hope that attention will continue to be paid to good things,” Ali B said on Instagram.
Laïla Belkerma claims to support the government of The Gambia
Laïla Belkerma, the founder of Shared Humanity, only sent a surreal short reply to RTL Nieuws from what looks like an ongoing stay in The Gambia. She said, “Shared Humanity would only support the Gambian government with funding for children who otherwise live on the streets of The Gambia.”
In her reply to RTL Nieuws, Laïla Belkerma made no mention of her organization’s lack of a concrete plan of action or the collection of donor money in her private account. Belkerma added that her foundation intends to grant temporary care of up to six months, preferably even shorter to the children. “The social workers here are looking for the children’s family members to see if they can be reunited. If the family is unresponsive, adoption options will be considered. The government is doing a great job here,” she said.
Laïla Belkerma’s foundation is not visible on a website or social media. There was also no response to The Chronicle Gambia’s various attempts to contact Laila through her personal LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.