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Beyond Right And Wrong

“In the stillness after conflict, after the blood dries and the screams fade, the memory of violence transforms survivors into prisoners of their own pain. How do whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors live—converse, smile, and even laugh—beside someone who blinded them, killed their parents, or murdered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? This life-changing documentary explores the intersections of justice and forgiveness as survivors heal from these tragedies.”–About the documentary Beyond Right and Wrong

Back in 2012, Mali experienced the peak of instability as a coup destabilized the country. But the coup was just the tipping point. For years, Mali’s North and South have failed to find a common ground. The failure is not on one side but a mish mash of ill feelings, insecurities and economic inequality. The North feels marginalized with no opportunities for a successful future. It is mainly this that pushes them to want separation from Mali. The South feels the North does not deserve this opportunity and that too many things are simply afforded them without them working for it. And so it continues that the two sides of Mali are in dis-accord. It is at this critical time that for the future prosperity, Mali needs to bring all sides to the table and have a national dialogue. Losses have been felt on both sides and nothing that happens now can take away the pain of lost lives and lost opportunities. However, if dialogue and reconciliation do not happen, Mali will remain broken. The power of this great country is not in one side or the other. Peace and prosperity can only come from an understanding between both sides of the table.

Kweku Mandela and Yeah Samake

Kweku Mandela and Yeah Samake

This documentary ‘Beyond Right And Wrong’ first came to our attention when Yeah attended the Sundance screening attended by Nelson Mandela’s grandson Kweku Mandela, who was promoting the film for his own charity. The lessons of the film speak true to what Mali and Africa truly needs from its future leaders and its citizens. Empower Mali is joining forces with Kweku Mandela and FilmRaise to bring attention to this amazing documentary on the lessons learned from past conflicts that have ripped countries and called into question the very meaning of humanity. This is what Mali needs. True dialogue can lead to true reconciliation. It’s where wants and needs must be put aside in favor of the bigger picture. It is not the easiest thing to do when you have lost someone you loved or can’t feed your family because of the situation. But it is the most crucial step that Mali will need to take to move forward.

So I ask you to take some time and watch this movie. It is powerful and the most heart wrenching film but it makes you truly ask yourself whether you can live the meaning of forgiveness.

FilmRaise has kindly agreed to donate $500 to our charity Empower Mali for every 1000 views we get. 10000 views can help us build a school. The power to impact change just got a little easier. All funds raised will be used to help Empower Mali continue impacting our people on the ground.

Watch it at: http://www.filmraise.com/beyond-right-and-wrong/empower-mali/ that detail the real stories below.

BeyondRighAndWrong_EmpowerMali

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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An example in Citizenship

When Yeah first took office as Mayor in 2009, the city of Ouelessebougou,made of its more than 44000 members, were frustrated with their local government. In fact they were so frustrated that they had stopped paying taxes. In many cases, the money that had been paid in taxes was abused by the then Mayor to build houses and buy cars. The result was a growing discontent with the Mayor’s office and a failing city that was as non-progressive as the whole country. Furthermore, since there was no tax money, that meant teachers at schools and the staff at the Mayor’s office could not get paid and in many cases this led to the heightened corruption among city officials so they could support their families.

When Yeah took office, he ran and was elected on a promise to root out the corruption that was plaguing the city. In June 2009, less than 10% of people were paying their taxes and Ouelessebougou was the 699th out of 703 cities in terms of development. Through gradually displaying to people that taxes linked directly to better services, Yeah was able to encourage the people of Ouelessebougou to begin and continue paying their taxes. Since then, the collected tax money has allowed employees at the Mayors office to be paid on time, paid for repairs on schools in the area, provided school supplies, helped build better facilities in many villages and encouraged a general good will towards Ouelessebougou from many businesses and NGOs. Many NGOs and businesses are knocking on Ouelessebougou’s doors seeing the success, transparency and ease of doing business. By 2011, 68% of people were paying taxes and Ouelessebougou moved to the top ten cities in terms of transparency and economic development.

Fast forward to 2014. This is the last year of Yeah’s first term as Mayor. This year, the Mayor’s office decided to do something different to acknowledge the great work that the different villages in the community of Ouelessebougou were doing to make sure that their taxes were paid on time. The Mayor’s office partnered with a local organization called PACT ( Programme d’Appui aux Collectivités Territoriales/Support Programme for Local Authorities) to publicly acknowledge and celebrate the community’s success at paying their taxes. Part of this Citizenship Day called on a public paying of taxes by all leaders of the community ( village chiefs, Mayor, Deputies, Local Chief of the Police, Chief of Customs in Ouelessebougou etc). It is said that actions speak louder than words and what better way to encourage and support tax payment than to publicly pay one’s taxes. In just one day, the city of Ouelessebougou collected over $3000 just from the community leaders. In addition, independent consultants reported a tax collection rate of 100.74 % ( the number being this high also because some people back paid their taxes from 2009). An additional surprise was the acknowlegement by the Government of Mali who sent their Mininster of Decentralization, Malick Alhoussein, to represent the government at this important event. When the Minister spoke, he publicly acknowledged Yeah’s efforts in truly practicing decentralization and turning Ouelessebougou into an example of a well managed city. He praised the efforts of the different village chiefs and also the people of Ouelessebougou for setting an example for the rest of the country.

These efforts are plain to see in the development that is springing up all over Ouelessebougou. From clean running water to clean energy and from infrastructure like factories, stadium enclosures, a new high school and a new hospital, Ouelessebougou will soon become a dream city for many in Mali. And this all is possible because one man said enough was enough and then showed his people how to manage their money honestly into development. Ouelessebougou is breaking all boundaries on development and showing the rest of Mali how it should be done. I am very proud to be the First Lady of this great city!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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Education for Mali

For Many, A Child's Life in Mali

For Many, A Child’s Life in Mali

Watching the children in Mali, my heart sometimes catches. For many of our children in Mali, there is no future under the current circumstances. Many of them will never have the opportunity to make something of themselves. Many girls will get married of by the time they are 15. Many boys, having no better option, will farm or follow the family business. Many more will remain without a job and with no opportunity, will join the masses that beg on the street to supplement what they make so they can take care of their family.

Fact of the matter is, this is a dreary picture and a dreadful reality for many Malians. If you were to stay in Mali, you would not be able to tell that most Malians are suffering. Malians are the most happy people I have seen. Maybe it was God’s one blessing to them to help cope with their miserable circumstances. But Malians are certainly not lacking in entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident from the large number of business people ranging from the side of the road seller to the store keeper.

The one thing that can truly help shape Mali into a success story in the long run is education. Today 70% of Mali’s population is in the age group 0-25. Yet only 31% of Mali’s population is literate. This figure is even lower for girls. While the government was able to put a elementary school in most villages, much of Mali’s 80% rural population lacks a middle school. Simply, because the government does not have the resources to build middle schools. So after 6th grade, many children will drop out of school simply because they have no access to one. For many a middle school is several villages and towns away.

I cannot imagine my children walking 5 miles (7km) a day to go to school. Not just once, but 4 times because in Mali, children return home for lunch. Now add in dirty, dusty roads and predators and you have a situation where most parents will keep their children at home.

For the past 10 years we have raised awareness about the one thing that has impacted our own lives. And that is the power of education. Yeah and I have both been blessed with extraordinary circumstances and blessings. And it is our education that has taken us many places and allowed us to make a living. But not just that, it is our education that ensures that our own children will never know the pain of hunger or the lack of opportunity. Our parents by giving us an education helped break the cycle of poverty and the lack of opportunities that spring from illiteracy.

Now we want to give that back to the people of Mali. It seems like an enormous task, but I am always reminded that sometimes all it takes to make change is the power of one. We are not Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi or even Mother Theresa. But we do have an honest desire to see change come to Mali and we do enjoy the support of wonderful friends and family and even unknown supporters that keep our work going. Through our foundation Empower Mali, we are partnering with villages in Mali to take our education back and empower our young children to stay in school and get educated. And not just get an education, but create an opportunity to build a brighter future for themselves.

We currently have two middle schools under construction adding to the 17 others Yeah has already brought to Mali. Two middle schools, one in Katele and one in Ferekoroba, that when completed will be seen as the beacon of hope for the children of that village. We are so grateful to our friends, family and supporters who have invested in these buildings of hope and in all our activities for Mali.It has been a blessing to visit these villages before the school is built and then visit the classrooms after. The classroom is teeming with life and activity and one only has to chat a few minutes with the students to see the immense joy they get from being able to enjoy childhood and the freedom of education for a few more years.

Empower Mali School Ferekoroba

Building Youth Around the World Academy of Ferekoroba

Empower Mali School Katele

DeJoria Academy of Katele

Our fight to educate our children in Mali will not stop with just building schools. Through Empower Mali, we hope to help introduce teacher training and adult literacy classes. We hope to couple the power of education with access to good healthcare, clean water and solar power to light up villages. We all have the chance to help lift Mali from within. Mali’s success will be the success of our children just like Mali’s failure will pull the rest of the world down. We all have the opportunity to become the change we want to see in the world. For Yeah and me, we have been blessed with the chance to share our blessings, one village, one community and one school at a time.

Empowering Mali one child at a time

Empowering Mali one child at a time

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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♫ Help wish Yeah Samake Happy Birthday ♫

Wow, what a year it has been! This time, last year, Yeah and I were busy campaigning in rural villages all over Mali. And while things have definitely slowed down, we are by no means halted in our goal to help bring change to Mali.

A man of his peopleBut I would like to take a minute and ask you to celebrate the life and achievements so far of a very special man. In 1968, a fortune teller told a Malian woman in the village of Ouelessebougou, whose name was Sanamba Doumbia, that she would have a child who would become a great leader one day. 45 years later, I would say that Yeah is very well on his way to being that leader.

But the one thing I love about this man, is that he does not lead just by word. His actions have determined and highlighted the wonderful leader he is. And many in Mali have grown to respect and trust him because they see real action on their behalf. How do you teach people not to be corrupt? For Yeah it meant not stealing a single dollar of the tax payers money and holding accountable any corrupt official. How do you show service and teach people to be better citizens? For Yeah it meant leaving a country of fortune and coming back to Mali to serve his people on the ground. How do you become a good father and a caring husband? For Yeah, it means spending hours building tents with our kids after a day of meetings and even washing dishes ( a crime for any Malian man in this patriarchal society;))

Yeah is just simply a special spirit. When you look into his eyes, you see a sincere desire to help and a kindness that warms. He is different in a way that is a blessing for Mali and all Malians. He truly cares and even when people harm him, Yeah is usually one of the first to help. It used to drive me crazy but one day he simply said to me, ” I have been blessed and it is my calling that I should share that blessing with others, no matter what”. Our children in Mali need more men like Yeah. The Malian youth are still being forgotten and no change has benefited them. Mali has one of the youngest populations in the world with about 70% under the age of 25. Thanks to your support, we can focus our activities on our youth in the hopes that they may be strengthened to raise themselves from the circumstances they were born into.

So today, I call on our Samake friends, family, and supporters around the world to help me celebrate this generous, amazing man by supporting the cause he loves the most. For the past two years, you kindly answered our call for donations to our campaign. This year I would like to celebrate the spirit of giving that defines Yeah and highlight what so few Malians have today: access to education.

A month ago we visited the village of Fala. Many children in Fala are working in neighboring mines in order to bring in an income for their families. However community leaders are committed to breaking this cycle of child laborers and poverty and want a school in their own village. So Empower Mali’s new village that will get a school is Fala.

Today, come celebrate this wonderful man with me by making a donation to Empower Mali’s new school in the denomination of 45– 4.5, 45, 450.. etc. or whatever you can. And/Or share this with your family and friends. You can click the button below or go to http://www.empowermali.org ( Enter “Fala school” in comments)

www.empowermali.org

Your support has been immense. My heart overwhelms with gratitude when I think of your prayers and investment in us. Thank you again, from the bottom of our hearts, for sharing our ambition, our desires for a better Mali and our journey.

From our family to yours, God bless you and your loved ones

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Past Posts

 

A historic day for Ouelessebougou

On February 11th, the people of Ouélessébougou welcomed a very special guest. In the first visit of its kind made possible through an invitation by the Mayor of Ouélessébougou Yeah Samaké, the Ambassador of America to Mali, Mary Beth Leonard, paid a visit to Ouélessébougou. The visit was a chance to cement a strong friendship between America and Ouélessébougou. Ouélessébougou has been one of the few lucky villages that has received a lot of support from religious and nongovernmental organizations in the US. The visit also gave an opportunity to display Ouélessébougou as a model of success when talking about decentralization and transparent governance.

The people of Ouélessébougou showed up in droves to show their support for the Ambassador of a country whose people served them. The streets lined up with children and the people of Ouélessébougou as the Ambassador’s entourage pulled up. The representative of the Chief of the Village of Ouélessébougou welcomed the Ambassador and her delegation. He extended his deep thanks and appreciation for the support of America in Mali’s struggles and all the investments that had come to Ouélessébougou. The teachers association followed by thanking the Ambassador for the American investment in education. Speaking in his role as Mayor, when Yeah spoke he thanked the Ambassador for making the journey to come visit Ouélessébougou, emphasizing that there is so much to see and so much cultural beauty to experience outside of Bamako. He talked about America’s role as a great democratic country from whom Mali could learn many values of true democracy. He praised the efforts of America in coming to Mali’s aid and for providing financial and logistical support. He expressed his gratitude for the numerous NGOs, entrepreneurs and medical groups that visit Ouélessébougou from the US. Through their help, Ouélessébougou has received free healthcare treatment.

When the Ambassador spoke, she was very grateful for the opportunity to come visit Ouélessébougou. No other American Ambassador has ever visited the community and so this was a historic first for an Ambassador of America to set foot in Ouélessébougou. The Ambassador spoke of the friendship that Mali and America shares. She focused on education being the key to development and praised the community of Ouélessébougou for their unique citizenship participation in their government. Today, thanks to the clean, transparent governance, Ouélessébougou enjoys a 92% tax collection rate from its 50000+ population spanning 44 communes. The people have seen the benefits of paying taxes in the services they have received. The event in the main square of Ouélessébougou ended with a song by the famous Malian rapper Mylmo that got the children on their feet. My people were very excited to celebrate this unique, special occasion with the Ambassador and her delegation.

After the welcome celebration, the delegation toured the different sites in Ouélessébougou that have made the city a developing, moving city. We started by visiting the stadium that was recently enclosed. Before the youth would have no place to play. By enclosing the stadium, the Mayor’s office has introduced a place for our youth and also a venue available for rent where national/international games can be played. This will bring many investments and business opportunities to the area. Next on the tour was the new hospital that is under construction. The hospital when completed will be the biggest of its kind in the region. When the hospital is completed it will house a maternity center, emergency room, pharmacies, child care unit, dental clinic, eye care facility and healthcare center. It will be the only big hospital between Bamako and Sikasso, which is 7 hours away. This is an amazing facility and when completed it will bring accessible healthcare to the Djitimou area. I am excited for this sprawling facility to be completed! It will reduce the unnecessary deaths caused from distance to the next health center. Next, the delegation toured the famous solar panel field and were introduced to the inner workings of the facility.

After lunch, the delegation headed to the village of Ferekoroba to see the Empower Mali school that is currently under construction. While there, Yeah discussed the importance of education and the role American NGOs in contributing to Ouelessebougou’s education. NGOs like Building Youth Around the World(who donated $50K for the Ferekoroba school) and our foundation Empower Mali play a strong role in strengthening the weak education system in Mali. There is no investment by the government primarily because the funds do not exist. Hence the education system is severely affected and all the help these non profits give help raise the communities where they work. The Chief of the village of Ferekoroba was very honored to have the Ambassador visit his village and personally came to greet her and her delegation. The Building Youth Around the World Academy is progressing nicely and will be completed soon. This is the first building of its kind since the primary school was built in 1956.When completed, the government will provide teachers to the school. The children are very excited!!

The final step in this very exciting day was a visit to the village of Tenkele. While there, the Ambassador got to experience the beautiful folklore traditions of singing and dancing of the area. She was honored with songs and presented with a sheep by the people of Tenkele. Tenkele is one of the bigger communes under Yeah’s jurisdiction as Mayor. The people came out in great numbers to support their community and welcome the Ambassador.

The day was indeed wonderful and packed with many memories. The event was covered by the national TV ORTM and brought the accolades Ouélessébougou deserves for being such a beautiful, forward thinking city. This visit achieved its purpose to strengthen the ties between the US and Ouélessébougou and to demonstrate the fruits of a successfully run local government. The people of Ouélessébougou are better off today than when Yeah took office in 2009. They have clean running water, a clean source of energy, new infrastructure like school cantines and maternity centers, a new high school ( the biggest in the region), a new hospital under construction, a civil service department and an efficiently run Mayor’s office. The people have a renewed faith in their local government and an assurance that their tax money is not being eaten by their Mayor. It is this sense of citizenship that makes Ouélessébougou special. The Ambassador was quick to recognize all these accomplishments and extended a warm thank you to the people of Ouélessébougou and their Mayor for making the day so memorable. My people in Ouélessébougou will indeed treasure this historic visit just as much.

You can watch the National TV ORTM Coverage( in French ): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOJpM4hKwrg

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Past Posts

 

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Legistlative Election Day in Mali

Today was another election in Mali. Today was the day when Malians would go to the polls to choose the delegates that would represent their area in the National Assembly of Mali. Many news agencies and international organizations had touted this election as sealing the long road since the country was thrown into chaos in March 2012.

As many of you know, Yeah had submitted all his papers to run in the legislative election. However after his papers were approved, his old party URD lodged a complaint stating that as an elected official Yeah had to step down from his role as Mayor since he was elected under the party URD. In, what we believe to be a very corrupt ruling, the Constitutional Court invalidated Yeah’s candidacy to run for the National Assembly. What we cannot grasp is how the same Constitutional Court did not disqualify Yeah’s papers when he ran for a higher office of President. Should the same laws not have applied? Or is the law only applied when it suits certain parties and certain individuals. In addition, Yeah had officially submitted his resignation to  URD’s local office in 2011. This resignation, while acknowledged by the local office, was conveniently brushed under the rug and forgotten. To make matters even more incomprehensible, Yeah is listed as the President of his new party on an official document provided by the Malian government. It is very sad and angering that it had to come to this. The area that Yeah was running in is his own home turf. A turf he is well known on and well respected. This area also has 7 seats at the National Assembly and has been constantly won by the party URD for the last 10 years. This was one race that they could not afford to lose. We have done all we could to fight the decision, even taking it to the EU observers and UN observers that were assigned to observe elections. It makes you realize just how powerless these individuals really are and that elections are determined not at the voting booths but in the governments and justice systems before the lists even make it to the booth.

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In the last few weeks, Yeah has campaigned vigorously for his other party members that are also running in different areas all over Mali. From the different communes in Bamako to Kenieba to Diola, he has supported his party members in their own areas and races. However his own area of Ouelessebougou vowed to boycott elections in the area of Kati in response to the blatant injustice of the disqualification and the inability by the Malian government and people to address/fix the mistake. As we watched in Ouelessebougou, the voting booths seemed like ghost towns.

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Most polls are predicting that no more than 20% of the 6 million voting population went to the polls to choose their legislative leaders. It’s sad to watch how people have lost faith in their leaders and believe that their opinion is as forgotten as the leaders campaign promises. While news outlets are trying to make it seem like security concerns kept people away, this is not true. The number of insecure areas is so minimal compared with the majority of voting precincts through the country. The poor turnout is an indication of how people just don’t care because deep down they know nothing will change. Also there are so many candidates that the names that stick out are the ones who have ruled Mali’s political deficiencies and failures for the last 20+ years. But many will go with names they have heard rather than ones they are not familiar with. Once elected, these delegates will remain in office for 5 years. For 5 years the delegates will get richer while their areas get poorer. And the same cycle will continue until the people decide enough is enough and democracy means their voice gets heard and remembered throughout the elected term and not just in the 2 months before elections. We had run for the Presidency and then again wanted to run for the Legislative race with one purpose only, and that was to affect change. Look at Ouelessebougou. No person can say that the city has not changed dramatically for the better in the last 4 years of Yeah’s term.

Nevertheless, we will not give up hope. We will continue to do the things that will improve the lives of Malians. Whether that is strengthening our political standing for a better run in 2018 or building schools, providing educational, clean water and healthcare opportunities to Malians under the foundation Empower Mali, we hope to give Mali our very best.

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Past Posts

 

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Hopes dashed

Yesterday I posted out that we had decided to run for Parliament in Mali. Our papers had been approved a week ago. Today we received very disappointing news that our candidacy was invalidated by the Malian constitutional court.  A requirement, unknown to us, was that as a Mayor elected under a different political party election laws required that Yeah should have resigned in writing from his old party before he could run for Parliament under his new party. This was never an issue when we ran the Presidential race which is why we can’t seem to figure it out. So, unfortunately, we don’t get to run anymore.

Thank you to all those that were quick to donate to our race for Parliament. Our campaign team is working on getting refunds issued. We are so appreciative of your generosity and belief in what we are doing in Mali.

Yeah will continue to fulfill his role as Mayor of Ouelessebougou to bring much needed change in his area. We will continue our humanitarian work through our foundation Empower Mali ( http://www.empowermali.org). Our desire to bring change will not waiver.

Thank you to all that have supported us through these last two years. We could not have made it this far without your love and support!

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Past Posts

 
 
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