Dr. Francois Kouya has been in Buffalo since 2010, working at Gates Circle and currently Gates Vascular Institute as an electrophysiology technician.
It’s a long way from where he grew up, as a homeless orphan in the Ivory Coast in Western Africa.
“It was really hard,” Dr. Kouya said. “I was sleeping in the streets and in train stations, not eating all day.”
To attend school, the young Kouya walked ten miles round trip, sometimes through a river.
He obtained his high school diploma, then moved to Sweden to join his brother and attend medical school. He later earned a PhD in neuroscience.
“I never imagined that my life would be like it is now,” Kouya said.
Now, Kouya is working to give back to the people of the Ivory Coast.
He and colleague Dr. Craig Crookston created the Ouallo Kouya Foundation, named after Kouya’s late father.
“My father was buried in this small village, and when I visited his grave years ago, I saw how people were living there,” Kouya said. “There’s no drinkable water, no school- the same situation I left years ago still going on, even worse.”
According to the foundation’s website, about 57 percent of the Ivory Coast’s population lives below the national poverty line of $1.90 per day.
Slightly over half of the population can’t read, write, or recognize the alphabet.
“When you visit villagers in the poor area, having a meal per day is a luxury,” Kouya said. “You wake up in the morning and not know if you’re going to have a meal.”
The foundation seeks to change the circumstances by establishing a 247 acre rice farm on land that has already been donated for the cause, as well as a factory facility to process and store the rice.
“We don’t want to continue raising money- we want to create our own resources by doing a rice production,” Kouya said.
The rice will be sold for a profit, which will be used to build schools, wells, and more rice farms.
The farm will also provide employment to students and local villagers.
Purchasing mechanized farm equipment for the operation would allow them to increase productivity and pay workers above the threshhold of poverty wages, Kouya added.
The foundation’s fundraising goal is $728,000, of which they’ve currently reached over $11,000.
Kouya says that he hopes his story inspires young people to not give up.
“If you have a dream, you have a strength- bring it up and keep working,” Kouya said. “If I got there, anybody can.”