Maria Diarra Keita

Maria Diarra Keita is the Director and co-founder, with Cheick Oumar Coulibaly and  Debbie Fredo, of the Institute for Popular Education (IEP) in Mali, West Africa.


Maria was disillusioned with the impact of traditional development approaches, particularly in the form of women’s literacy and income generating activities that she had spent years organizing. Inspired by rural women and their own sharp critiques of those approaches, Maria led a group of dedicated educators in the practice of alternatives, first in nonformal adult education and then in the national reform of formal primary education curricula. Over the past 30 years IEP has been the institutional home for an ever expanding group of educators in search of doing education and development differently.


Maria entered the master’s program at CIE in 1991, alternating semesters in class with semesters back home in Mali testing all she was studying. In 1993 she was accompanied by a group of founding members of IEP that she brought to Amherst with her on a study tour of social change and popular education sites in the U.S., including the Highlander Center in Tennessee and the 21st Century Youth Leadership movement in Selma, Alabama.  In the years that followed, partners from those sites, including CIE faculty and students, would come to witness and support IEP actions in Mali,


IEP programs promote women and youth leadership training, curriculum development for community schools, training and jobs creation in the community education sector, and social mobilization in support of the transformative and systemic reform of education in Mali.  At its community lab school in Kati, IEP developed early grade reading materials in national languages that have been adopted by government and local NGO partners.  IEP educators worked at all levels of influence from village groups to teacher training colleges and from school classrooms to Ministry departments. 


While working with a network of those she describes as “co-visionaries” from 3 continents, Maria has been honored by many, including as an Ashoka Fellow and as an “Invisible Giant” by the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma.  She often likes to quote traditional Bambara wisdom sayings such as this one: “Human-ness is a rope and a debt” (Maya ye juru ye).  She explains that it reminds us that our humanity is a rope that we must hold on to and that we owe it to each other not to let go…” [9-23]




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