Hawks’ Gorgui Dieng earns money ‘not just for me’ but also Senegal

Gorgui Dieng in Senegal

Combined ShapeCaption
Gorgui Dieng's foundation has provided aid for his home country of Senegal since 2015. (Photo courtesy of MATTER)

Some Hawks players who aren’t established in the NBA had a request for their veteran teammates during a preseason trip: Give us your per diem money. The young guys need the cash more, after all.

Can’t do it, Gorgui Dieng told them.

“You’re trying to support a family,” Dieng said. “I’m trying to support a country.”

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Hawks

He was exaggerating, but only a bit.

Dieng can’t support everyone in his native Senegal. He can’t solve every problem in his hometown of Kébémer. Dieng can leverage his wealth, fame and connections to improve the lives of people there. He said he considers that his obligation, so that’s what Dieng has done since 2015 via his foundation with work that goes well beyond his basketball camps.

The aid has included containers of medical equipment and supplies for the main hospital in his hometown. Dieng helped establish a neonatal center in capitol city of Dakar, about 125 miles from Kébémer. There’s an agricultural center in Lompoul that helps farmers to grow ecologically stable crops. Soon after the coronavirus pandemic began, Dieng’s foundation delivered personal protective equipment and antiseptic products to health-care workers in Senegal.

Dieng visits Senegal every offseason. He said his strategy for figuring out how to help is simple and direct: Dieng sees for himself what people need and asks government officials how he can assist. Last year, Dieng put the question to Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, Senegal’s minister of health.

Sarr’s answer: a maternal and children’s hospital.

“I need to focus more on the baby and the momma,” Dieng said.

Dieng and his philanthropic partners got to work. The mayor of Kébémer offered to donate land for the hospital. Dieng’s goal is to raise $1 million for the project, which is sorely needed. Senegal and surrounding countries in West Africa have some of the highest infant and mortality death rates in the world, according to UNICEF data.

The goal of Dieng’s foundation is to build a sustainable future for children in Senegal.

“Everything that would help,” Dieng said. “Health care, that’s the top of everything. That is the area where I help the most. People have to be healthy. They have to eat, go to school.

“My foundation focuses on four things: health, education, agriculture, and sports. I think all those four go together.”

Dieng’s foundation recently held a small event in Atlanta to highlights its accomplishments over the past six years and seek donations for the hospital project. Guests included several of his Hawks teammates and team co-owner Jami Gertz. The event raised $300,000.

Groundbreaking for the hospital is scheduled for June. Dieng hopes it will be up and running by the end of the year. It will be the biggest project among many that Dieng has tackled in his partnership with the global nonprofit MATTER. His work has had a significant impact.

The total value of the shipments Dieng’s foundation has sent to Senegal is about $5.1 million, according to MATTER. That includes 31 shipping containers of food and medical supplies. MATTER estimates that Dieng’s foundation has delivered more than 4.3 million meals and helped about 627,000 people receive medical care.

Dieng began his efforts while playing for the Timberwolves, the team that drafted him in 2013. He was looking for a way to make a difference and team officials directed him to Quenton Marty, president of MATTER.

“We’ve worked with a number of athletes and we’ve learned that, sometimes, an athlete might think they’ve got to check a box and do this or they are just uncertain on what they want to do,” Marty said. “The first thing we do when we meet with athletes is to see their purpose, what they want to do. I’d say Gorgui was set apart from any of the other athletes. He was so clear on the work he wanted to do.”

Dieng’s work in Senegal earned him one of the country’s highest honors. In 2020, he was presented with the National Order of the Lion. The Senegal president’s office said the order, for distinguished contributions, is awarded sparingly.

Marty said that when Dieng he first began his humanitarian work, a few people on the streets would recognize him because of his NBA fame.

“Now he’s like a national hero there,” Marty said. “Everybody knows about his foundation. If he’s in his hometown, there’s a line of people wanting to talk to him.”

Full disclosure: Dieng played basketball for my alma mater, Louisville. He was easy to root for because his generosity of spirit. All indications were that Dieng genuinely wanted to use what he calls the “blessings” of his basketball talent to help others. He’s followed through on that pledge since becoming a professional.

Dieng said he learned from the example of his father, who was mayor of their town when Dieng was a child.

“That’s just who I am: I like helping people and I want everyone to be good,” he said. “I am playing basketball and making all this money, but it’s not just for me.”

Dieng’s young Hawks teammates know that now.

To donate to the Dieng’s hospital project, please visit gorguidieng.com. Charity Navigator, a nonprofit evaluator, gives MATTER its highest rating.