[Jan. 15, 2024: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
Guinean student Mamadou Safaiou Barry cycled thousands of miles across Africa for a place at the top Islamic university in Cairo. (CREDIT: Reuters)
Our parents often regale us with tales of their challenging journeys to school, stories that often involve mile-long walks in the rain and snow, and an uphill trek both ways.
But when it comes to pedal-powered travel to school, one man has set a new standard that defies all odds and expectations.
Mamadou Safayou Barry, a husband and father of one from Conakry, Guinea, embarked on an incredible odyssey. He hopped on his bicycle and embarked on a remarkable journey that spanned across the entirety of West Africa and the Sahara Desert's extensive road network, covering an astonishing 2,500 miles.
His audacious goal? To secure admission into an Egyptian university.
Barry's remarkable expedition took him through five countries: Benin, southern Mali, Togo, Chad, and Burkina Faso. His journey was not without its perils, as he ventured into some of the most treacherous and bandit-infested regions on Earth, including parts of Burkina Faso and Niger.
During his expedition, Barry faced unjust detentions without cause or charge on three separate occasions, twice in Burkina Faso and once in Togo.
However, it was in Chad, nearly four months after he set out from his home, that fate smiled upon him. A local journalist took notice of his incredible efforts and decided to shed light on his extraordinary journey. This report caught the attention of a local philanthropist who stepped in to change Barry's destiny, providing him with a flight to Cairo, Egypt.
Upon arriving in Cairo, Mamadou Safayou Barry's determination and unwavering spirit caught the attention of Al-Azhar University, one of Egypt's prestigious institutions. The university offered him a full scholarship, initially for Islamic studies, and later, for engineering. This opportunity was the culmination of Barry's relentless pursuit of education, and it affirmed his belief that knowledge could overcome any obstacle.
In a heartwarming turn of events, Hollywood megastar Will Smith learned about Barry's incredible journey through a BBC report in September. Impressed by Barry's extraordinary determination and resilience, Smith decided to personally congratulate him. He initiated a video call with the Guinean student in Cairo and presented him with a meaningful gift to aid in his educational journey—a brand-new bicycle and a laptop.
This opportunity was the culmination of Barry's relentless pursuit of education, and it affirmed his belief that knowledge could overcome any obstacle. (CREDIT: Mamadou Safayou Barry)
Barry, still in disbelief about his encounter with Will Smith, shared his astonishment during an interview with the BBC. "When I saw him, I was confused in my head, because I had seen that man before," Barry recounted. "Then I remember—it's Will Smith! Wow… I used to watch his films. I was sat on a chair in front of Will Smith!"
Mamadou Safayou Barry's incredible journey is not just a testament to his determination, but also a symbol of the power of education to transform lives. From the dusty roads of West Africa to the hallowed halls of Al-Azhar University, Barry's story serves as an inspiration to all those who believe in the boundless potential of knowledge and the extraordinary lengths some are willing to go to pursue it.
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