A mud house shared between two parents and 11 siblings in Ouelessebougou, Mali, was where Djiba Soumaoro called home. Living in extreme poverty meant that Djiba’s parents were unable to send him or his siblings to school, so Djiba would watch the other students from outside the classroom until one day when the teacher invited him to step inside.
“That is where my love of lifelong education was ignited,” said Djiba. “I continued to go to school with the other students until the teacher asked me to leave for not paying the student fee. I went to see my grandmother afterward, and she asked how I was doing. I told her about what had happened, and she could see that I was very passionate about my education.”
In an effort to help Djiba continue his education, his grandmother sold her goats on a Friday to help Djiba pay the school fee on Monday morning. He was the first of his 11 siblings to pursue an education. Djiba moved 70 miles from his hometown to Faladie, Sokoro, to live with his uncle and attend high school in Bamako where he studied languages and French literature.
There was just one problem. The distance between where he lived and the high school was great, and Djiba had no alternate mode of transportation — but that didn’t stop him.
“I walked an hour and a half each day just to get to my classes. Later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the university, from the Faculty of Language, Letters, Arts, and Human Sciences in English (FLASH),” said Djiba.
During his senior year of high school, Djiba completed an internship with an organization called the Ouelessebougou Alliance where he met a man who would give him an amazing opportunity.
“One of the men I was working with noticed that I came from a really poor family, and he asked me if I wanted to come to Utah to spend some time with his family and the Alliance staff,” said Djiba. “He told me that he wanted to help me and give me some money to attend school.”
With the generous help of that man and his family, along with other sponsors, Djiba had the funding to pay for his college education and living expenses and he began looking at colleges.
Djiba came across UVU’s international student programs and was instantly interested. He decided UVU was the perfect place to continue his educational journey. He moved to Utah and immediately began courses as a Wolverine.
“I chose to pursue a degree in political science with an international relations emphasis and a minor in peace and justice studies,” he said. “During my time at UVU, so many professors took the time to help me. I especially enjoyed my interactions with Geoffrey Cockerham, John MacFarlane, Lynn England, and Michael Minch.”
His professors were encouraging and granted Djiba many opportunities for a hands-on education. As he learned about the United Nations in his classes, he attended two Model U.N. competitions in San Francisco and a meeting of the General Assembly of the U.N. in New York City.
“These experiences laid the foundation for me to be successful throughout my career and opened the door for me to be accepted to Brandeis University, SIT, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, and the University of Notre Dame,” said Djiba.
With his Wolverine spirit and UVU degree in hand, Djiba attended the Keough School of Global Affairs at Notre Dame where he was the first recipient of the Hesburgh Global Fellowship, a program that provides funding for Notre Dame global affairs graduates who pursue work focused on peace, justice, development and equality.
That fellowship granted Djiba the opportunity to work for the Ouelessebougou Alliance as the program coordinator, an organization based in Utah that improves the quality of life in Mali, West Africa, particularly in the Ouelessebougou region, through sustainable health and education programs.
“I want to give hope to disadvantaged and marginalized people in the same way some incredible people from Utah gave hope and opportunity to me while I was living in extreme poverty. I want to pay forward all the good that I have received in life,” he said.
Even though his educational journey started by watching his fellow classmates outside the classroom, Djiba changed the trajectory of his life through education and is now ready to pay it forward to the community he grew up in and encourage those around him to take advantage of an education.
“Just because you come from a disadvantaged family does not mean that you are disadvantaged. A good education is the best way to break the poverty cycle. Take your education seriously. Never give up on fulfilling your dream.”