Masachs Boungou: Fleeing Civil War in the Republic of the Congo and Becoming a Ph.D. in the U.S. – EP. 154

About This Episode:

Masachs Boungou, a recent doctoral graduate of UMass Lowell, is a keynote speaker, Ph.D. holder, and Fulbright Scholar Alumnus.

His childhood was completely upended when his village was ravaged and destroyed, forcing him into exile. He was forced to live in the jungle for a year, facing unimaginable circumstances.

Somehow he never lost faith, educating himself and eventually getting an advanced degree in America. Now he’s a public speaker and author, and his jaw-dropping tale is inspiration for us all.

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2:07 – “My path starts when the civil war that ravaged my town, Dolisie, in the Republic of the Congo in 1999. And at that time I was about 12 years old. So I could not imagine that a single event could affect me and so deeply affect my family and affect millions of people back in my country. And I also could not imagine that the event could kind of create in me a sense of inward drive and tenacity, to always seek for opportunities for growth and for triumph. And then I went on to get a Fulbright fellowship.”

7:26 – (Ross) “Part of the struggle that you have had is this moment where you say, ‘Okay, I just need $5 to take my exam,’ $5 to go forward in your education and your dad and your family had to make the choice because your mother was sick to either use that $5 to help your sick mother or to give you $5 to complete your exam. And obviously, the choice was, we’re going to help my sick mother. And therefore you didn’t get to complete that part of your education for another year. That’s the kind of heartbreaking stuff that most people just don’t even consider. And you kept going.”

16:10 – “I think that it’s very important to talk about the self-help and self-help is a part of your personal history. It’s what you find in yourself, okay? Within yourself – it doesn’t come outside – it comes within yourself. And to do so, I think you need it to be a way of your personal history. And when you are aware of your personal history, two things you find out for yourself: one, is that you know what to avoid doing. Two, you develop inward drive and a tenacity to carry out what you do.”

19:25 – (Ross) “Most people can’t even imagine being in the United States, a foreign country. $200. And then I think the next part, which wasn’t even meant to be funny, was clearly, it was the funniest part to me because you land in the airport, nobody’s waiting for you with a sign. You don’t even know where you’re supposed to go. Your school is very far away…you get a cab driver, and this is a positive point for the United States because somebody took pity on you and they said, ‘Okay, I’ve got to help this guy out.’ They took you to a cab and they helped you get where you’re going. So you happen to have this cab driver who is Somalian, and he’s telling you about the Black experience of being an African who has moved into the United States. And I thought the very funniest part of this whole thing was that he teaches you all of these things in a very short period about what it’s like to be Black in the United States. But also he takes the $200 from you…I thought if that’s not an introduction to America, I don’t know what is. He’s like, ‘Man, I feel for you, but give me your money, dude.’”

21:44 – “He was here for years, he knows how the American society works for African nationals like me at the time who came to America to look for the piece of a pie of the American dream. What the American dream looked like for African nationals that he was describing to me and what the American society was expecting or kind of describing, depicting, the American dream for people like me at that time. And then he said that the American dream was not something available to people like me. So it was alarming. And then later on, he said that the American dream was possible as long as you keep your eyes on the prize, as long as you – I don’t know if I have to use this term – hustle. As long as you have an aggressive approach, competitive approach in life, you can still make it. You can still live it.”

25:04 – “I came from a collectivist society, meaning that you live with the people, you are in a group. You don’t live by yourself. You are linked with other people. But now I was living in a very individualistic society. So you have to care for yourself and about yourself. So at the time I couldn’t comprehend it because sometimes even I could meet some people on campus and I could greet them, they could not reply. Which was a very cultural shock for me.”

28:56 – “I understood that sometimes, at the time, people did not quite understand Africa and maybe they didn’t know how to educate themselves or maybe also they get this cliche from the mainstream media world that Africa is. So I did also feel like a part of my responsibility was kind of to ‘educate’ some of the people about what is not being taught on the mainstream media or on what they have heard here or there.”

32:02 – “I think I am kind of on the mission of discovering my mission on this earth, probably back home because I think back home there are quite a lot to do. There are villages that do not have cleaning water. There are a lot of young people who survive the civil war do not have economic opportunities. And they don’t have access to educational opportunities as well. So to me, I am trying to find a bridge between America and home. What I have learned here, not only in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of capital, how it can be invested back home to help those who cannot have the same opportunities that I have. And I did it when I went back home after the Fulbright Fellowship and actually I am trying to raise money because I would love to establish an innovation center in my town to help young people who survived the civil war create startups in agriculture and food productions.”

34:25 – (Ross) “This book really reminded me of a lot of things that I have, dots that I’ve connected on this show and in my own life that other times people who are on the outside, they don’t necessarily understand how those dots are connected. Like what does the climate and climate change and human rights and entrepreneurship – these all seem like different things. But then when you read a story like this, you understand, oh, there is a reason that I, as an individual, me, Ross, gravitate towards these types of stories and there is an underlying connection.”

34:54 – (Ross) “After you finish your first study, the Fulbright is done, you’re going back to Brazzaville and everybody around you is saying, ‘Hey, there’s no jobs. A lot of the Fulbright scholars that have returned, they can’t find work. The government isn’t offering jobs. You’re not prepared for this. It’s not a good economy for making money.’ And the first thing that you say is, ‘I don’t want a job. I’m not here for a job.’ And everyone is like ‘Huh? What do you mean, you don’t want a job?’ Even your dad is shocked by this. But you say, ‘No. I want to take my skills and I want – entrepreneurship is a vehicle for me to create something in my hometown.’ And you never considered getting a job. So it’s like entrepreneurship at its best can be this incredible vehicle for empowerment and for building and for creating, especially in communities that have been struggling for external factors such as the Republic of the Congo.”

36:44 – “One of the things that I have found very interesting in American education – though that you may not become an entrepreneur, but you can, and you have to be a leader in your field. So you have to be creative in what you do. So that is something very interesting that I have found in American education. So it teaches you to become an entrepreneur. Not only in the sense of creating startups, but in the sense of thinking out of the box. How you can improve what you are doing, how you can become a leader in your field.”

46:34 – “I think entrepreneurship should be in the way that works for everybody. In the way that inspires each of us to do better in what we are doing. Entrepreneurship should not be at the expense of others. ‘Okay, I win all, you lose all,’…I think entrepreneurship should be in the way that people can be inspired to solve their own problems. And, then how they can take care of their own community.”

47:50 – “I believe in entrepreneurship being a tool to lift people out of poverty, whatever poverty that can be, because most of the time when we talk about poverty, we look at the lack of materials. But also poverty can be spiritual, poverty can be also education as well. So poverty can be the lack of digital learning skills. So if we can provide those skills or those tools to people who are lacking them, I think that’s also part of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship should be that, it should not just be prioritizing capital at the expense of social well-being. So we should bring this together – social and economic together.”

49:31 – (Ross) “There is this trend in human history of the stronger just decimating the weaker, the strongest, the loudest, the most violent just comes in and wipes out everybody else. And it can be said of many things such as, why is paganism and the people who like dancing in the forest, why are they wiped out and the most aggressive, violent, warlike people remain? And I think the history of America as this tension of conqueror and conquered and violence, there is a part of me that understands – also being a male, an alpha male and macho and ‘I kill animals because I can,’ and ‘I beat you at business because I can.’ And ‘let’s fight, let’s fight, let’s fight. Who cares? Just be the strongest.’ There are these competing desires of competing and winning and being the strongest and taking every advantage and who cares how it happens, versus empathy and understanding that somebody else is in a different position as yourself or something else. And that is a tension that I think exists within myself. But I think it definitely exists within our culture, especially when we have so many toxic male entrepreneurial role models who believe that ‘just subjugate, be violent, take what you can get. that is winning.’”

52:50 – “I think it’s very important to be strong, but to be strong, not to bully other people. To be strong to help other people, to be strong to participate in what we have just talked about, social entrepreneurship. That’s the way that you build up people. You build up the community and the only person who can build up the community and the people is the one who is strong because you have the means. You have the financial means, you have the strength of the vision, the strength of the ideas that you can execute.”

59:10 – “History is not the past. It has never been. History is who we are. It invokes inspirations that shape our present and future conditions. And we have to own our history.”

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