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MALI’S #1 CHALLENGE: EDUCATION

LifeMali

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.

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 an 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 14 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. 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.

Through the work of our foundation Empower Mali, we have helped bring more than 24 middle schools to Mali. By putting schools in remote villages, education becomes accessible. Especially for young girls.

As a Mayor, efficient transparent use of tax revenue allowed Yeah to bring the first high school in Ouelessebougou, fix dilapidated school structures and ensure no teacher shortages.

As Ambassador, he made education a key part of our mission. Yeah was able to partner with universities to garner scholarships for our Malian students to come study in India and the 9 other countries we served. Additionally, he helped create a safer environment for our Malian students and made himself fully accessible to our students.

As President, one of the key things we will do is help build more middle schools and teachers housing in remote villages. By building teachers housing in the villages, it encourages teachers to stay long term in the villages. Additionally, we hope to provide adult literacy classes, additional training for teachers and incentivize parents to keep their kids in school.

We should not condemn our future generations to a life without a good education. Otherwise the cycle of poverty will continue. Education remains the cornerstone of development.

Mali’s hope is Yeah Samake. We can sit all day long and talk about what Mali’s leaders are pretending they do. Or we can look at a record of a man who has done much for his community in Ouelessebougou, and as an Ambassador. A man of the people. Yeah Samake.

We can do this! We can bring change to Mali. Become a part of our journey and help our bid by donating $50 at www.yeahsamake.com

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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in Past Posts

 

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Leadership is Service

When I first met Yeah at University in 2003, he told me that he wanted to run for President of Mali, his country. I thought he was joking. As we got married and began our journey together, I realized he was not joking. In everything he did he always put Mali ahead. I realized very early on that serving Malians was the center of every decision he made.

Back when Yeah was in Mali, after he had graduated with an English degree from the prestigious Ecole Normale de Bamako, he returned to his city of Ouélessébougou. He soon realized that there were not enough teachers in his village. The government did not have funds to pay for teachers. Yeah could have moved to Bamako and gotten a well paying job there, however he chose to stay in Ouélessébougou. He volunteered at the local middle schools teaching English.

After graduating from BYU Utah with his Masters in Public Policy, Yeah partnered with Adrian Escalante to form a foundation that would serve the educational needs of the people of Mali. Through his leadership and fundraising efforts as the director, 17 middle schools were built in the rural villages of Mali. Each of these schools served 150+ children from the community increasing access to quality education. Additionally, Yeah headed many medical and dental missions from Utah helping connect quality resources with a deep need in Mali.

In 2009, the Mayor of his city was up for re-election. The commune was in crisis. The Mayors office had embezzled a lot of money and the result was that the city was suffering with inadequate access to education, electricity and clean running water. We didn’t have the means, but Yeah wanted deeply to run for the Mayor’s seat. He believed that he could change the way the Mayors office was run and ensure that all the money was used to serve the needs of his people in Ouélessébougou. Yeah ran and won with 86% of the vote. He became one of the youngest mayors in Mali. Using the education he learnt and the lessons of service he experienced in Utah, he quickly turned Ouélessébougou, a city of 55000 people, into one of the top ten communities in Mali. During his time as Mayor from 2009-2015, Ouélessébougou got its first big multi-service hospital, the biggest solar panel field, running water and the first high school. Business started to boom and many new hotels and new businesses opened their doors in Ouélessébougou. All of this would not have been possible without people recognizing that Yeah was a good man who truly loved his people and his community and wanted to make life better for them.

In 2012, we believed that we could impact change on a bigger scale. Yeah wanted to run for the Presidency of Mali believing that corruption and lack of management was responsible for the destitute plight of many Malians. In a country of 16 million people, Mali in 2012 remained one of the poorest countries in the world despite being the 3rd largest gold producer in Africa and the second largest cotton producer. The leaders were prospering but Malians were suffering. Committed to making a change, we left the comforts of America and moved our family to Mali. We could easily have stayed but we chose Mali because we believed that Yeah’s leadership and service could bring change. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in our bid. But we didn’t loose the opportunity to get a larger name recognition and broaden the bases of our political party.
Through our Utah-based foundation Empower Mali, we continued strong, hoping to make an impact on our fellow Malians living in the rural villages. Through EM, we built 6 more middle schools, teachers houses, donated tractors to villages, initiated scholarship for Malians to study abroad, brought clean energy in the form of electricity generating playgrounds and donated textbooks. Each project Yeah initiated was done as a partnership where the village contributed and became part of their future success.

In 2015, the President of Mali, who Yeah contested against in the 2012/13 Elections appointed him to be Ambassador of Mali to India and 9 other Asian countries. Yeah was ambivalent and unsure as to whether he could effectively serve his fellow Malians abroad as much as he could in Mali. We chose to go. We believed that Yeah could help impact policy at a global level and that the impact would be felt by local Malians. That holds true today, two and half years later. Today, through Yeah’s efforts, Mali has secured funding for the $100 million electric line that will connect Sikasso and Bamako, a commitment to fight terrorism in Mali’s Northern region, scholarships for Malian students to study in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and many more exciting new opportunities.

At every step of our journey these past 15 years, I have never seen a man who loves his country more than Yeah. He sleeps, breathes and is Malian to his very core. Love for one’s country is seen not in the things we say but in the things we do. Yeah has fought for many opportunities in education, healthcare, clean running water and access to a better quality of life. But the fight is far from over. Today more than over, Malians remain destitute, a victim of poverty and lack of access to basic necessities. I once heard a saying “ If Serving is below you, then Leadership is beyond you”. Yeah has served his people from day one but he can do so much more if given the chance.

That is why we have chosen to run for the Presidency again on July 29, 2018. But we need your help. We are fundraising outside Mali because we don’t want to be controlled and influenced by the donations of special interest groups within Mali. Our goal is not to empower them but rather to serve the needs of our people. The 17 million Malians who deserve better. I believe Yeah Samake is that man who can change the course of their path for the better. But we need your help to help us win this election not only for our fellow Malians today but for our generations in Mali to come.

We can do this! We can bring change to Mali. Become a part of our journey and help our bid by donating $50 at www.Yeahsamake.com


 

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2018 in Past Posts

 

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Strengthening ties with India

2015-10-24 23.17.42The last week in October was probably the most important, hectic week so far in our diplomatic career. During this time, India held its 3rd Africa India summit and hosted about 54 African nations in an effort to boost ties between the continent of Africa and India. In the biggest event since 1983, 42 African presidents attended this grand summit .

We had a unique opportunity to host the President of Mali, H.E. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the First Lady of Mali, H.E. Madame KEITA Aminata Maiga, a delegation of six Malian ministers and 15+ government staff. What a nail biting yet amazing experience!!

BF8W5409 FirstladyofMali

ForeignMinister of MaliBF8W5574 BF8W5809 BF8W6014 BF8W6128 BF8W6149 BF8W6155 BF8W6159 BF8W6164 BF8W6359 IMG_1740 IMG_2265 IMG_2301 IMG_0011_1_11_Mali IMG_0011_2_11_Mali IMG_0011_3_11_Mali IMG_0011_4_11_Mali 2015-10-31 18.21.24 2015-10-29 15.16.10

During the weeklong event, Mali had an opportunity to share with India the many ways that we can grow a mutually beneficial relationship with India. The Foreign Minister H.E Abdoulaye DIOP extended his gratitude for the military support provided by India while encouraging India to further strengthen its cooperation  in the area of ​​peace, security and the fight against terrorism. The Indian PM Narendra Modi announced a 10 billion USD line of credit, aid amounting to 600 million USD over the next 5 years which includes a India-Africa Development Fund of 100 million U.S. dollars and an India-Africa Health Fund of 10 million U.S. dollars and 50000 scholarships for African students over the next 5 years.

In his address, our President, His Excellency Mr. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita first paid tribute to the longstanding friendship and cooperation between India and Africa that were strengthened by leaders like Gandhi, Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Nkrumah, Modibo Keita, Nelson Mandela and Jomo Kenyatta.

He denounced terrorism and violent extremism, which according to him, is now one of the most serious threats to peace and security and noted that the fight against these evils must be at the center of the joint action of the Partnership. He stressed the potential of both parties and called for a strengthening of the strategic partnership for economic and social development of India and African countries.

He also took the opportunity to express its deep gratitude and that of the people and Government of Mali to all countries friendly to the multifaceted and ongoing support to Mali.

During his meeting with the Prime Minister of India, H.E President Keita expressed his gratitude to India for providing Mali with soldiers to protect the North of Mali. Our President also expressed interest in growing Indian investment opportunities in the fields of agriculture and technology in Mali. PM Modi  further invited President Keita back for a separate bilateral visit to India.

President Keita also took an opportunity to meet with the Malian student leaders from Bangalore. He expressed his support for them and his joy in meeting them.

During this time, I also had an opportunity to spend some time with the First Lady of Mali. I continue to be amazed at her genteel and down to earth nature. During the spouses program, we had an amazing opportunity to visit the beautiful Akshardham temple. During her time at the temple, she joined other African First Ladies in offering  prayers for world peace and harmony by offering ‘abhishek’, the ceremonial pouring of sanctified water from 151 holy rivers, lakes and ponds across India on the sacred image of Sri Neelkanth Varni. About the visit, the First Lady said: The visit was really educative. It is a place of peace, humanity and wisdom. Simply magnificent and a beautiful monument. May we keep inspiring from the past values to make our life more beautiful. Well done to Indian people for their ingenuity work.”

The last night, our delegation was received by a big Indian delegation that introduced us to the mystery of Bollywood and the true Indian culture. The night was filled with great music and good Indian food. This experience left quite a indelible unforgettable mark among all our delegation.

This summit was monumental in terms of the endless possibilities to grow Mali and India’s friendship. Yeah and I gained a fresh perspective on how we can move Mali forward in our role. We learned so much more about diplomacy and had a chance to experience it truly at work. What an unforgettable, mind blowing experience all round!

 

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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Empowering Change

Stats about MALI

With one the poorest, most illiterate economies, Mali has already been served the grittiest of challenges. With challenges in many domains ranging from health to education, daily living seems impossible. So how do Malians manage?

4+ years on the ground in Mali has allowed me to truly see and understand the many challenges Malians face each day, especially in the remote rural villages. I have big respect for the people of Mali. They make the best of what they have. And they possess a desire to improve their circumstances. This is evident when we see villagers traveling for days from remote areas coming to request our foundation Empower Mali to help build a school or presenting a project in clean water. They come with the knowledge and willingness to participate financially. During the project, there are many hands involved from every community group in the village. And when the project is completed, each and every person celebrates knowing that their lives and the lives of their children will be just a little better for it.

Through Empower Mali, some great work to empower our communities is happening in Mali! And it would be impossible without generous hearts willing to help make a difference.

ThankyouWatkinsFamily2We have some Big News! Empower Mali has received a generous tractor and 3-classroom middle school donation by the Watkins Family of Alpine, Utah. We are grateful for their long-term investment in our communities. Their tractor donation will be used as part of our food security program in the region of Ouelessebougou and their school donation will help build the Micah Shea Watkins Academy in the village of Dongorona. The rural village of Dongorona is situated in the community of Oueléssébougou, Mali. With a population of 1300 households, there are 260 children currently attending primary and middle school. Many more have dropped out after 6th grade. The primary school, built in 1981, houses grades 1-6 and currently has 200 children, of which 36 are in the final 6th grade. Currently 60 children will walk the 12 miles each day to attend the neighboring middle school in Simidji. The road they walk is a main road which is continuously busy with many buses/cars/trucks travelling dangerously fast. Many parents in the village have withdrawn their girls because of fear of having them walk that long distance alone. A school in the village will give these girls an equal chance at an education and prevent early marriages. We hope to have this middle school ready for the children when school starts in October. Read more about this amazing donation here

We are also grateful for the kind donation of a potable water treatment system through Utah based Alpine Technical Services and AllChem. The system which will be installed in Dongorona will provide 1300+ households with clean water and ultimately a healthier life.

These past few months we have also been focused on finishing up the three classroom middle school, computer room and teachers housing for the remote village of Falla. We are now at roof level and in the next couple of months we will be putting on the roof and painting. This school too will be ready for the new school year in October.

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The three classroom middle school, computer and teachers housing in FALLA

So many exciting things are happening !! A big shout out on behalf of our people in Mali to each and every one of you who have helped empower our communities in Mali.

 

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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Building a future in FALLA

Marissa_FirstbrickFALLAThe joy in Falla is immense.

The excitement palpable.

The investment in Falla’s future generation immeasurable.

And YOU made it possible !

February 7th, 2015 will be a day that will be remembered for a long time by the citizens of the village of Falla. On this day, I was honored to represent all our kind donors as we laid the foundation stone of the Falla Academy. This middle school was only made possible because of the generosity of our supporters, friends and family.

Thank you for making this dream a reality and helping us on our mission to educate Mali one village at a time!

Falla, which has a population of 1,587 children is a 6 hour dusty and bumpy ride from the main city of Bamako. It is a very remote village located in the circle of Kolondieba in the Sikasso region.

Currently, there is a primary school in the village. After 6th grade, some children will walk 7-12 KM to middle schools in the neighboring villages of Touloula, Sikoro, Donkerila and Tiekongo. The long distance is a deterrent and many children drop out after 6th grade with many girls getting married and many boys working in the mines or farms.

With all middle schools our foundation Empower Mali builds, the village is required to show their commitment by providing 20% of the cost of the school and the land. The people of Mali do not want a hand out and with it sustainable development becomes impossible. The village commitment was fulfilled by Falla born Mamadou Kone, a Malian entrepreneur who now resides in the US. The remaining funding will be provided through our foundation Empower Mali. USD 50,000.00 was donated through a generous individual who wishes anonymity and the remainder through the kindness of other individual donors.

The event was attended by all the educational authorities in the area, a Parliament Member from the area and the entire village. The village chief, on behalf of his village, expressed their full support for the success of this project. The 3-classroom school when completed will house about (150) 7th-9th grade students from Falla and surrounding areas.

We are grateful for all who contributed to making this school a reality for the people of Falla. Construction should last about 3 months with the school being used for the new school year in October 2015.

In a country where literacy hangs dangerously low at 31%, this school will become an equal opportunity life changer for boys and girls in the area giving them a chance to finish at least their 9th grade exams, which is a basic requirement for most decent paying jobs and a rarity for most children and adults.

Education MaliThe groundbreaking ceremony was also covered on Mali’s National TV ORTM. You can watch it at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpIM6bngN8I

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in Past Posts

 

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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.

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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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