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Meet Fatimata Sanogo of Sahel Sage in North Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Fatimata Sanogo.

Fatimata, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the possibility of health, empowerment and world peace. I was born and raised in Dori, in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso. Sahel means shore of the Sahara. Sometimes I like to think of myself as a “princess” of the desert. Growing up, I enjoyed the hot dry sunny days and cool nights of the Sahel. Playing on sand dunes during dry seasons are unforgettable childhood memories. I grew up speaking French and Fulani and I was raised in a family of multi-generational spiritual teachers, healers and sheiks.

At age six already, I had constant vivid dreams of being in the U.S. I dreamed of being part of a big celebration of life and it excited me! Looking back, it was an incredibly unlikely dream given how rare it was for any “Sahelien” to travel outside of the Sahel, left alone in the United States. However, as a child, anything is possible. My dream has always felt so real to me that I had a conviction that it was just a matter of time. And as a child, I rarely engaged in how the dream would become real. Instead, I spent many hours dreaming about the great world I will be creating, believing in the difference I can make in the world, and I felt very limitless and very good about it. Also, In the Sahel where I grew up, many girls don’t go to school and I was very passionate about the possibility of someday owning my own non-profit organization that will support women’s education.

At age 12, I met an American couple who was serving in the peace corps in Dori. They sponsored my first trip to the United States at age 13. I spent six weeks in the U.S. in the summer of 2004 and I was introduced to the English language but was not speaking any by the time I left to go back home. Somehow, I knew I’d come back…

I moved to San Diego at age 19 in 2010 to attend college. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of California San Diego then moved to Los Angeles for my doctoral degree in Epidemiology at the University of Southern California.

Moving to Los Angeles has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. Here is where my biggest dreams have come true in the most unexpected yet very delightful ways! Los Angeles is the place where I have met and continue to meet some of the most uplifting, inspiring, generous, creative and impactful people in my life. The opportunities seem endless and the diversity is magnificent! It feels like the entire world is here! When I moved to Los Angeles, my childhood dream of owning a non-profit was still with me. I was fortunate to now be in higher education, but in Burkina Faso, where I grow up, whereas 93% of female children (ages 6-11 years) are enrolled in elementary school, only 38% remain enrolled in secondary school (Age 12-18 years.) By the time of college (Age 19-23 years,) only 4.% of women are still in school. That’s a lot of dreams cut short! I discovered that most adolescent girls drop out during puberty due to financial hardship, but also the lack of menstrual hygiene products. I know I wanted to own a non-profit to support girls’ education someday…

Within two weeks of moving in the city, my friend Luciano introduced me to Agape International Spiritual Center. When I heard Agape’s Founder Michael Bernard Beckwith speak the first time I felt at home. In his speech, my childhood dream of a global human connection of love and inclusivity was being accurately articulated in words through him. I was also instantly reconnected to spiritual roots of my childhood. At Agape, I met a great yoga and meditation teacher Etan Boritzer, who introduced me to my yoga teachers Travis Elliot and Lauren Eckstrom. I became a certified holistic yoga teacher after nearly a decade of practice and started teaching holistic vinyasa. Teaching yoga and meditation became a vehicle for the self-expression of my spiritual gifts until about a year ago when I published my first book “31 Universal Spiritual Principles: A daily guide and tool for spiritual growth, joy and empowerment!”

One of my greatest blessings was meeting my friend Sterling during a class I attended at Agape University. She introduced me to Landmark Worldwide. In the Summer of 2018, I completed the Landmark forum and went on to complete other Landmark courses. Landmark education turns out to be one of the most effective personal and professional growth educations I have ever had. I have had a big dream since childhood of creating a world that can work for everyone, but I was acting as though I could do it alone. In my coaching at Landmark, I discovered that having grown into a strong and independent young woman, one of my greatest “blind spots” was that: “I can do it alone.” I was not allowing myself to be vulnerable and was not letting others contribute to me enough. As an achiever, I have a strong suit of being focused and determined yet at times, people like myself can be stubborn and self-righteous in their choices, which can cost us love, affinity and intimacy in our relationships. 

And clearly, it takes a village to create greatness! Like the old African proverb says “if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.” As a result of the benefits of this education, I got the confidence that it was possible for me to have anything that I was willing to give my word to, take actions consistent with it and be connected with my community. I also got practical tools in having the kind of discpline it takes to do that.  Three months after my first landmark course, I founded my non-profit organization Sahel Girls Empowerment or Sahel SAGE! My childhood dream has become a reality! Our non-profit provides menstrual hygiene products and full tuition and school supplies to adolescent girls in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso to keep them in school. As a result of the difference we are making in the community, we have been awarded best community improvement project by the West African Business Excellence Award committee. This summer, we are preparing to start a vocational training for the girls and are looking forward to it!

One of the greatest lessons I have learned thus far is that life is always progressive. And The moment you say ‘yes’ to something, then where you live your life from is a bigger context than it was. It’s kind of like you expand, it’s uncomfortable; then you expand, and it’s comfortable. And then something new comes, and you reach for even bigger. And there might be a tug-of-war, but then you yield to it, and you expand again, and you’re there. That is life, always looking for a way, someone available, to express more of itself. I live as though I am a ‘channel’ for life. I say YES to possibility. And at every step, there are breakdowns. Surprisingly, so called challenges are also the source of my growth. A happy life is not a challenge-free life. Rather, it is living with a constant practice of looking for the blessing and the gift within each seeming life challenge; asking myself the question “What gift within me is seeking to emerge here?” Because the moment I identify the gift and focus on it, the challenge dissolves and my life is expanded.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I faced many challenges, but my childhood dream was always the future I was living into. When I moved to the U.S. in 2010, I experienced great language barrier and culture shock. After attending ten weeks of intensive English training and with the support of a native English speaker friend, I started college. Then six months living in the U.S. I started experiencing homesickness. I experienced the greatest pain of being homesick around my second year in the U.S. In those moments, I was starting to experience myself relating to pieces of different cultures (American and Burkinabe,) yet left with the feeling of “I don’t belong anywhere!” It was painful! And it felt like this feeling will never go away. By the end of my third year living in the U.S. however, something unexpected happened. I experienced a shift and started experiencing home not as a geographical place but as feeling. Home is where I feel good with myself, free to self-express and I am surrounded by people who are empowering, loving and compassionate. When this shift happened, I felt a great deal of freedom and a great sense of belonging in the world. I had the confidence from then on that I can create anywhere to be home, and I could live almost anywhere. At that time, my friends have become very diverse and I truly enjoy learning from different cultures.

When I committed to founding my non-profit, while working on my PhD and teaching yoga, one of the biggest breakdowns for me was ‘I don’t have time for this!’ The moment I said ‘yes’ to a nonprofit, there was a breakdown. But instead of being stopped, I decided to take things on in a way I never had before: One of the things that I discovered along the way is just time management… I was someone who never had a calendar; I could just manage things. Now I have a calendar! Equally important to my relationship with time, was the realization that I couldn’t do it alone. I cannot be the founder and CEO and secretary, etc.–it’s just not going to work! So I’ve got to empower people. People like Sahel Sage’s Executive Vice President, Shannon Potter, who is just as passionate about our work as I am. The difference that Sahel Sage is making is due to the partnerships and commitments of its team, and I am very clear: When I allow others to step into their leadership, and allow people to contribute to me, then we are big together.

Please tell us about Sahel Sage.
Sahel Sage looks to see what’s missing that will allow adolescent women in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso to continue their education beyond elementary school and then finds ways to fulfill those needs. Every $300 Sahel Sage raises provides the menstrual hygiene, tuition, school supplies, transportation, and food needs for one local girl for an entire year. I am fortunate to have my mother, Fadima Sanogo, as one of my team members with her nearly 30 years of experience working with non-profit organizations. We are currently developing a summer vocational project for the girls to learn advanced cooking, sewing, cattle domestication, and infant care skills so that they can both better provide for themselves and also help meet the needs of their communities. This is the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as a little girl, and it will become a means of financial freedom for these women.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
No doubt I have been extremely lucky on my path. However, I don’t think of luck as something special reserved to a few. I like to think of luck as an acronym for Living Under Cosmic Knowledge (LUCK) like Michael Beckwith says. Meeting an American couple at age 12 who would initiate my first trip to the United States was very lucky. Meeting on my path incredibly generous and loving people who are constantly and selflessly contributing to me (and I can name here hundreds!) has been very lucky! Yet, I am clear that there’s nothing special about me and the universe doesn’t play favorites. I love my life, and the extraordinary kind of life I get to live. Such opportunities, I believe are constantly available to us in life, and the key is to identify them, or at least be willing to take the chance to “go for it!” Rarely do we know “This is it!’ when it’s happening. However, when we are willing to take a chance then we can look back and realize “Wow! That was it!” And for us to be willing to take a chance and be in action in life, we must have a commitment to success!

Let me first start with what success is not. Success is not a destination. And when it comes to success as an achievement, what is even more important than the outcome is who we are BEING in the process. The number one marker and the foundation for success is having my life structures stabilized: my finances, my career, my relationships, my health, my livelihood, my spirituality, and my own sense of self. When these aspects of my life are stabilized then, I am standing on solid ground for the kind of life I want to create. I like to think of myself, not as merely an individual isolated in the world, but more like a network of conversations among friends,  family, co-workers, etc. that connects me to the world. Who the people in my life are for me, and who I get to be for them matters. Therefore, my relationships and the quality of my relationships matter in life as a marker for success. I love empowering those around me and bring a great deal of respect, love and compassion. I surround myself with those who do the same for me.

Ultimately, success is about taking on life as a daring adventure. I believe each of us has their own unique version of my childhood dream. The question to ask yourself is: What is yours? Because it is up to you to recall your unique dream, the unique gifts, talents and skills that you possess. And then, success becomes the willingness to surrender enough to life to have your life structures stabilized and to be bold enough to say yes to expressing and manifesting those unique gifts talents, skills… your dream! A simple question that can assist you is asking every day:” How can I serve today?” Because life is always progressive, the more you say yes to your dreams and your gifts, the more you discover other aspects of your dreams, gifts, and creativity wanting to be expressed by and through you. It’s not necessarily linear. And the real success is the willingness to keep saying yes, giving up control or the tendency to force a desired outcome, and at times dancing in the realm of “I don’t know!” Success becomes the willingness to forgive, keep expanding and discovering for ourselves, how much of all of life we can be with. How much of all of life with its joys, successes, failures, challenges, uncertainty can we be with, without losing our sense of power, freedom and peace of mind and never stop saying “yes” to what’s possible for our life. That is living under cosmic knowledge! That is lucky! And truly the kind of life worth living for!


  • With $300 you can sponsor a girl for an entire year providing her with menstrual products, tuition, school supplies

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Image Credit:
profile photo credit: Cristina Prieto Blum

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