Yeah Samake has been elected mayor of Ouelessebougou, Mali.
The former Brigham Young University student and current director of the Mali Rising Foundation, based in Sandy, has just returned from Mali, where the elections were held in late April.
"It was amazing," he says of the experience. "It was beyond my wildest dreams."
There were 15 parties with candidates in the election, running to fill 23 seats. "My party won 10 of the 23 seats, so it wasn't an absolute majority. I had to build a coalition with another party," he said, but in the long run, he sees that as a good thing for the Ouelessebougou region. "We will all have to work together."
But there was a lot of enthusiasm for his candidacy. "When I first got there and was coming from the airport, we were met by a caravan of about 300 people, including 200 motorcycles and scooters. It was unprecedented. Never has there been such a welcome, even for the president of the country. They all escorted me into the town."
Over the next three days, Samake traveled to 20 villages to meet with the people. "It was exhausting, 20 villages in three days, but it was such a learning experience, finding out what the people want, what they expect from the mayor."
Many of those expectations center around the most basic of needs, he says. "In the more remote areas, they need more public services. They need adequate roads so they can get to hospitals faster. They need more schools. In the cities, they need such simple things as a hearse to take family members to the cemetery."
As the new mayor over a territory that includes 44 villages, Samake knows that he faces challenges. "But I also love the experience I will gain from this."
He will be invested as mayor on June 2, and the next few weeks will be very busy as he sets up committees and works on budgets. "I will try to bring in more funding from the central government, and from groups such as Mali Rising and the Utah-Ouelessebougou Alliance."
He will be looking for someone to take over the work at the Mali Rising Foundation. "I will begin to spend more and more time in Mali, two or three months at a time." He will never forget his second home in Utah, however, and the people he was worked with here. He hopes those relationships and good works will continue.
But already he feels like he has made a difference in his homeland. "In Mali there is usually 30 to 35 percent participation in elections. In this election, there was 53 percent participation. The enthusiasm was incredible."
For some time now, Samake has dreamed of being able to help the people of his country. He knows that not all dreams come true, especially for poor boys born in poor countries of the world. But this one did.
"I just feel so very blessed and grateful that the people of Ouelessebougo see in me someone who can make a difference," he says. "I feel blessed and grateful that they see in me someone who can help. At the same time, I feel such a great responsibility to do a good job."
He hopes this will be just the beginning.
His next dream is of devoting his life to the service of his country. There will be a presidential election in 2012, and now maybe even that might be within reach, if not in 2012, then the next time.
But for now, Yeah Samake is the new mayor of Ouelessebougou.