From slave to student: Umaru Balde's journey from West Africa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

From slave to student: Umaru Balde's journey from West Africa


by Danielle Wagner

CEDAR FALLS (KWWL) Umaru Balde is a sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. He also works at the Center for Multicultural Education.

Balde has come a long way to study political science. He's originally from Guineau Bissau in West Africa. Balde said it's one of the poorest countries in the world.

"Not because we don't have natural resources, we do, but people don't really value education," he said.

At 30 years old, Balde said he actually feels younger now.

"Right now, this is my childhood. People wonder why I say that. It's because I didn't have a normal childhood. I was given away by my family when I was just six years old," said Umaru Balde.

He was sent to live with a religious scholar to be educated, but Balde said it was more like slavery. He woke up everyday at 4 a.m., prayed at 5 a.m. and then went to work... often in farm fields.

This was his life until age 12 when suffered a severe beating after spending the day with his mother who was visiting.

"I got beaten up. I think I stayed there on the floor for 12 hours and until he got tired of beating, and I fainted and stayed there for three days," said Balde.

After that, he saved money his grandma gave him until he could afford a bus ride home. He wasn't welcomed home at first, but was allowed to stay if he continued religious study, which is what he did.

Later, Balde left home for Egypt and Israel before a friend told him about attending college at UNI and here he is.

"I love this place. I honestly do. It's my second home now," he said.

He last visited West Africa in 2008. He said some of his family members still don't understand his desire for education.

"You're grown up. Come back and get married. But it's common for them, not for me. I have a goal, and I have to get to that before I do anything else," he said.

Balde sends money home to his family. One day he hopes to return home and help teach people the value of education.

"I don't believe in the idea of impossibility. I believe that everything is possible as long as you're working for it, it will come," said Balde.

After he gets his undergraduate degree, Balde hopes to go to grad school at UNI.

Reporter: Danielle Wagner

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