Finding refuge in knowledge

As a victim of persecution, a Malian man transforms a personal experience into a focus of study for his doctorate at USP

Diabate wearing his blue tunic that is typical of the nomad peoples of the Saharan Desert in northern Africa

Léo Ramos Chaves

Moussa Diabate was born a Muslim, but at 16 years of age he converted to Christianity, which was problematic for him in his country of Mali, located in West Africa and then partially occupied by the fundamentalist Islamic group Al Qaeda. The persecution did not prevent him from continuing his studies, but he had to overcome obstacles even before it began. With a Malinke father and a Tuareg mother, when Moussa was a child, he was taught social and religious subjects by his grandmother and an uncle, following the tradition of the nomads in the Saharan Desert. In order to escape religious intolerance and continue his studies, Diabate had to move three times to different cities. In 1998, when he lived in Kidal, he passed the entrance exam for psycho-pedagogy at the Teacher Training Institute of Sevare. Six years later, at 26 years of age, he passed a public professorship competition. Soon after, he started a science education program in the School of Language, Arts, and Humanities at the University of Bamako, specializing in school administration.

With the strengthening of the extremist group and the intensification of religious persecution, Diabate was forced to abandon his teaching career. He decided to start his life over and arrived in São Paulo at the beginning of 2012 as a Christian refugee. With the support of the organization Cáritas, he learned Portuguese. But he wanted to return to teaching and dreamt of starting his doctorate. He almost gave up.

“I was told that my master’s in psycho-pedagogy was equal to a specialization in Brazil and that, to start my doctorate, I would have to do another graduate degree.”

Diabate says that he considered leaving Brazil many times. Nevertheless, he started the revalidation process of his diploma in pedagogy and psycho-pedagogy at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR).

In 2013, he began his master’s in education, art, and cultural history at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo. He used his life story as the topic of his research, analyzing the crossover of his mother tongue, Tamasheq, with French in the learning process in Mali.

It was during his master’s that he learned about another religious institution, Mission Peace. “I offered to teach French to the Brazilian volunteers who were helping the new refugees,” he recalls. His experience served as motivation to start his own nongovernmental organization, The Good Samaritan, which welcomes and supports refugees through translation services, Portuguese classes, training courses, and food. “We have already served more than 700 people of various nationalities,” he reports.

At 40 years of age, and motivated by his experience in Brazil, Diabate is ready to start his doctorate in human rights at the University of São Paulo (USP) Law School. “I plan to study situations of vulnerability and human rights policies based on the case studies of Malian refugees in Brazil and France.”