Ambition: Malian immigrant in Utah running for mayor of 44 African villages

Published: Friday, April 10 2009 2:01 a.m. MDT

As director of the Mali Rising foundation, he has been involved in numerous projects, including building schools (the ninth school will be finished in June); medical missions that have helped more than 4,000 patients, including 300 surgeries and dental care for 1,000 residents; and providing computers for high schools and universities.

"When I first came here to do my master's degree, I had never even used a computer," Samake says. "Now our students can use them in high school. That's a tremendous thing."

Progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go, he says. "Ouelessebougou consistently ranks in the bottom 10 out of 703 municipalities in Mali." Through leadership and commitment, and the work of others, "I think we can be in the top 10."

He wants a better Mali for his children.

Samake met his wife, Marissa, who is from India, while she was a student at BYU. "She joined the church at BYU," he says. "We have talked about it, and she is OK with going back to Mali." The Samakes have two children, a son, Kenan, age 3; and a daughter, Carmen, 7 months.

Even if he is not elected, Samake will eventually return to his country and hopes to be more involved in leadership and politics. "I have enjoyed freedom, democracy and abundance. I want to help Mali reach a comfortable level. I think it can compete in a global market. I think my people can enjoy abundance, that they can enjoy the freedom of going to school, and escape preventable diseases. That is not too much to ask."

Samake knows it will not be easy. "It is never easy to reach such goals. But I also know it won't come from the outside, that's for sure. It will require the participation of all Mali."

For now, it starts with a vision of what can be. He hopes that the people of his country will share his vision, take it as their own. During his seven years in the United States, Samake has learned an important truth.

"Once the mind is stretched," he says, "it never goes back."

E-mail: carma@desnews.com

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