This post was originally written on Morgan’s blog at: http://thesecondbreakfastblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/one-mans-vision-how-yeah-samake-will.html
After my interview with Yeah Samaké. I’m on the left, Yeah is in the middle, and Michael Devonas (founder of the BYU chapter of Empower Mali) is on the right. It was such a wonderful experience being able to meet and talk with him! He’s a wonderful man, an incredible leader, and an inspiration to us all!
Progeny to a nation of opportunities and facilities that would be the stuff of miracles in a worse-heeled country, the ignorant, gluttonous exploitation and thanklessness so ubiquitous between the white picket fences of the middle-class American breed happy, smiling Frankenstein monsters of political leaders too plastic and unacquainted with critical issues like poverty, illiteracy, and corruption. That breach between quandary and captain remains inaccessible if the Babel of dissimilarity obstructs resolution from being reached. To remedy social ills, a leader must speak the language of the crisis. He cannot expect to understand an issue having only observed it from the comfort of a white picket fence. The parallelism of sympathy is required. Though too few from the bottom are able to persevere to positions of power, 2013 Malian Presidential candidate Yeah Samake, a man born and raised in poverty, has come forward to offer change for his country through education—change made valid through the success he has already achieved.
Raised in Ouélessébougou, a town he would later be elected the mayor of, Yeah was no stranger to the hunger that accompanied the brutal penury he and his family were subject to. “Some nights, my mother would come and hear us sobbing in bed, and she would tie our stomachs so that they would shrink to reduce the pain of our hunger.” Though he had never been to school, Yeah’s father had a dream that each member of his family would receive an education:
He had a vision that only through education we could break the cycle of poverty, so he sent all of his children to school. In our community that was unheard of… the people of the community warned him, they said, “If you send all of your children to school, your family will go hungry.” He was so determined that, when he was asked, he said, “My family will go hungry, but my family will not know the darkness of illiteracy.”
Despite being obliged to surrender such basic necessities as food, Yeah believes every sacrifice one can make for education to be advantageous.
We paid an enormous price to be there. Like I said, we had to forego the daily meal to be there. We had to give the pain, the hunger, to go to school, but every sacrifice that you can make for education is good… It gives you freedoms that you have never had. Freedom to provide for your family. Freedom to get yourself trained. Freedoms that cross incredible boundaries. Together, we can break that chain [of poverty]. We have the power to go out and be better citizens—to have hope that tomorrow will be a better day than today.
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Bamako, Yeah traveled to the United States to obtain a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Brigham Young University.
“I had numerous experiences at BYU that helped build a foundation of leadership… The rigorous training at BYU through this program has truly helped me better understand how we can make the right decision for the right cost. Whether it is the current value or the future value of any decision, it is very important for a leader to have this background. There are also immeasurable, intangible qualities of a leader that you don’t learn from schools, like integrity, like help and service, but even then I feel that BYU truly promoted, instilled, and augmented my sense of service for others. As we know, BYU’s model is: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” So, it has served me to serve others.
Through the Kennedy Center for International Studies, Yeah was able to obtain an internship at the United Nations, where he first discovered he wanted to serve in a nonprofit organization. It was out of this desire that sprung the Daily Dose Foundation, which became Mali Rising, finally growing into the Empower Mali Foundation. Overall, Yeah has built no fewer than fifteen schools.
These schools are innovative. They’re cost effective and environmentally friendly… But the under line is that every community that we approach, they pay 20% of the cost, the government provides the teachers so we build this incredible partnership that is unique where the government provides the teachers and the villagers provide the land… Empower Mali raises the money… the remaining 80%. Once we build the school, it becomes immediately self-sustaining. We don’t go back and put money into any of our schools. The villagers, once we are done, they keep the schools, and we come back to check how the schools are functioning. That’s how we are transforming lives, helping children in Mali.
After completing his formal education, Yeah viewed the corruption of his hometown’s government with new eyes. He now had new ideas, new knowledge, and a new vision—and felt as though he had the obligation to make them reality. He ran for the position of mayor of Ouélessébougou, winning by a landslide on the platform of transparency and honesty. He promised tribe leaders he would not pocket a single tax dollar, but would consult the tribe leaders as to where the tax money would be applied based on what deficiencies existed in each chief’s community. Not only did he make good on his promise, winning the trust and support of the citizens of Ouélessébougou, he completely transformed the town’s economy, improving employment rate and increasing the rate of citizens who paid their taxes from 10% to 68% in a single year. His success attracted the attention of American sponsors and national Malian leadership and both began to pour money into Ouélessébougou, making it possible for the once deteriorating town to become a model community, complete with modern public schools, a state of the art hospital, as well as other superior civic, educational, and medical amenities.
He was then approached by the Malian President’s entourage as a potential candidate in the upcoming elections. Yeah was motivated to revolutionize Mali the same way he revolutionized Ouélessébougou. Before the 2012 elections, however, mutinying soldiers distraught with the government’s handling of the Tuareg rebel situation overthrew the government in a military coup. Though he was deeply disappointed, Yeah continued to tirelessly struggle for peace and progress. After great effort and an interim government, Mali is now ready for democratic presidential elections—and Yeah is eager to lead the country into a golden age of a better education system, medical programs, and an improved economy. Yeah is also an inspiration for all those who wish to get more involved, especially students, and he offers this advice:
You cannot do it alone. I cannot do this alone. It takes people to believe that change is possible. You know, a Harvard professor said, “How do you measure the worth of your life? It’s not in terms of things you accumulate, but in terms of the impact you made on the lives of others. That’s how you measure the worth of your life.” We cannot self-pity and believe that we’re too small to do anything, that we’re too alone to do anything. We need to get started. We need to get involved. The greatest happiness, the greatest joy, does not come from the things we have, but from the service we render to others… However big the challenge is, let’s get to work. Most people can make a big difference. With an organization like Empower, all you need to do is ask the members of it. You will be directed to do small things that will not take your focus away from you education, but it your spare time you can use it to get people involved, to inspire other students. That’s where it starts. You cannot wait until you’re city councilman to do things in your city. You can start now, as a student. Not only will you help others, but you will be the first recipient of the benefits of your service. It’s a training program for leadership skills. So, while doing so, you will build personality for yourself while you’re making an impact on the lives of others. Today, you don’t need to travel to New York to raise money in New York. We are in the age of technology, where we can do a lot of things… You are special because you believe and can make a difference. You can look into the eyes of the children in Africa without even traveling, saying, “We can provide education for this girl, or for this boy.” You are doing it from here. Tell others about it. Most people want to help but they have no idea where to start. One day at a time. One evening at a time. One meeting at a time. You can encourage each other, you can inspire each other.