It was around this time in 2015 that Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng had breakfast with Quenton Marty, the president of Matter, a local nonprofit that works to provide access to food, health care and education for people in the United States and around the world.
Dieng was hoping to find someone who could work with him to help his native Senegal. Marty was searching for someone who could help in Matter’s work.
“I often say the most difficult part of our work is finding the right partners to work with,” Marty said.
Within moments, Marty saw how serious Dieng was in his mission to help Senegal and knew there was potential in a partnership.
“That breakfast was the first moment where I knew this was the right guy to work with. … This is a guy that has a heart to help, a heart to serve,” Marty said. “He really wants to do something for his people.”
On Thursday night the Gorgui Dieng Foundation, in conjunction with Matter, will host its fourth annual benefit at the Holden Room to raise money for Dieng’s foundation, something Dieng has grown over the past few years to improve life in his home country.
Since that breakfast, Dieng’s foundation and Matter have sent 15 40-foot shipping containers of medical supplies, food and basketball camp equipment to Senegal and aim for 10 more this year.
Dieng didn’t just want to help Senegal; he said he felt an obligation.
“A successful man is not somebody who just has money and lives his life,” Dieng said. “If you’re successful, you have an effect on your community, your country or wherever you live. That’s the way I look at things. … Do the right things to help people that need help.”
Dieng was in his hometown of Kébémer a few years ago when he saw a pregnant woman lying on the floor of an ill-equipped hospital waiting for a table to open up for an examination. Dieng made it a point to help the hospital and raise money to provide equipment necessary to improve its standards of care.
But Dieng isn’t just trying to help in the medical field. He is working to fight malnutrition and has donated a piece of land that is used to educate farmers how to make better use of their resources. He also wants to expand his efforts to include more places in Africa, not just Senegal.
“There’s always going to be room for improvement,” Dieng said. “The malnutrition in Africa, everybody doesn’t understand how grave it is … We’re here to help. People that can’t afford [essentials], people that need help, whether it’s health, food, whatever, wherever the foundation goes, we’re ready to help. We just want to help Africa be in a better way.”
Dieng isn’t just there to give money and walk away. He’s involved in deciding where to allocate resources, Marty said. Recently, Dieng’s foundation and Matter shipped pallets of IV fluids, rice meals and equipment for neonatal care. Marty said Dieng’s work has affected more than 1 million people and has sent $3.2 million worth of goods and equipment to Africa.
Dieng is a well-known celebrity in Senegal, and his celebrity can effect change there.
“He’s helping improve many lives and gives people a different perspective,” said Makhtar Ndiaye, a former Senegalese NBA player who is now a scout with the Knicks. “As one would say, hope is back alive. His impact is huge on the youth, especially in the countryside where he’s heavily invested in agriculture and breeding. He’s changing the ecosystem by providing jobs.”
And outlets for escape and reasons to dream. Dieng holds a basketball camp in Senegal every summer and while he is typically low-key and quiet, he realizes the impact he can have, especially with children.
“It cost us over $100,000 or $200,000 to hold a basketball camp, but it’s worth it,” Dieng said. “The fact you bring kids for a week, you pay for everything, you pay for their food, logistics, security, insurance, gear, everything. And they come from all around Senegal. They have a chance to be seen, the chance to be the next Gorgui or whatever. That’s amazing, the fact we can do that.”
These initiatives are what guests will be giving toward Thursday with Dieng matching what’s donated up to a certain point, Marty said. Tickets still are available for $150 through Dieng’s website, GorguiDieng.com.
Dieng’s contract, a four-year deal worth nearly $63 million, can be a point of contention for Wolves fans, but he is making sure his money his put to good use.
One story that sticks in Dieng’s mind was of a father who spent what little money he had to come visit Dieng. His son had kidney problems and needed medical help.
“He had like $2 and he used it for transportation and came all the way to my hometown, saw me, explained it to me and we helped him,” Dieng said. “That was very touching.”
Dieng arranged for the care of the child before he ultimately died. But Dieng said he still helps the family, and he helped secure the purchase of a car so the man could drive a taxi and provide for his family. Other similar stories show how one person, with a little help from his friends, can make a deep impact in a place that needs help.
“It’s the best feeling,” Dieng said. “I go home, and I feel good. I know I did something positive. People, I don’t even know them. They needed help, and they got help. We don’t expect nothing back. I think that’s the right way to do it.”