Saidou sisters

Sisters Oumou Saidou (left) and Fanta Saidou will graduate this Saturday, May 7, from SIU Carbondale. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

May 06, 2022

Two sisters from Niger continue the family tradition of becoming Saluki alumni

by Kamaria Harmon

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Two sisters from Niamey, Niger (West Africa), Fatoumata Saidou Hangadoumbo (Fanta Saidou) and Oumoul Kairou Saidou Hangadoumbo (Oumou Saidou), will join their father and older sister in becoming Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduates at commencement this Saturday, May 7, at the Banterra Center.

Fanta Saidou received all three of her degrees from SIU. She has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry, and a master's degree in public health, and shortly she will be receiving her Ph.D. in health education. Oumou Saidou received her bachelor’s in business management with a minor in marketing and is getting her Master of Business Administration.

“Graduating from SIU for the third time is a dream come true,” Fanta Saidou said. “This graduation feels extra special as I will be sharing the stage with my younger sister. Sharing the same graduation day is a gift to us both, my parents, family, and our Niger community.”

Although their parents can’t make it to commencement, the sisters receive tremendous support daily. Having each other through this process kept them on track too.

“With multiple sacrifices, we still stand strong,” Oumou Saidou said. “My sister and I have worked so hard and have come a very long way. Having my sister here to lead me made the transition less stressful.”

The sisters first arrived at SIU in 1998, when their father, Dr. Saidou Hangadoumbo, decided to pursue a Ph.D. in health education. After graduating in 2003, Dr. Saidou Hangadoumbo and his family moved to Fairfax, Virginia, before returning home to Niger. They never forgot the great Saluki community, where they met a lot of uplifting people whom they are still friends with to this day.

The Saluki family journey continued with his oldest daughter, attending SIU and eventually earned her Ph.D. from the School of Medicine in medical microbiology. His second daughter is a semester shy of graduating with a degree in social work. Then, Fanta Saidou completed her Ph.D., and Oumou Saidou completed her MBA.

Their journey at SIU

Each year, when international students join the SIU family, they must make sacrifices that include being far away from home.

“My journey at SIU has been a memorable one,” Fanta Saidou said. “The journey while memorable, also had its challenges, adjusting to the demands that come with being an international student. While it’s been a sweet journey, coming to SIU meant being away from my family for many years.”

Her sister agrees that it can be hard and strenuous, but she appreciated the journey they took to get to where they are.

“My journey at SIU has been challenging, yet a great one. SIU has helped me to become the person I am today by encouraging me to give it my all and do my best in everything that I do,” Oumou Saidou said. “Thinking how far I’ve come along in my studies made me push and work even harder.”

The sisters are also grateful for the Center for International Education (CIE).

“While here, CIE staff have been readily available to assist and guide in any way they could, being very accommodating and helping me navigate all the necessary steps,” Fanta Saidou said.

They will always be appreciative of the time they got to share at SIU.

Home away from home

After arriving back at SIU in 2010 and 2014, both sisters said that SIU feels like a second home to them. They built a second family here.

“It’s the best home away from home where you can imagine the many great possibilities,” Fanta Saidou said. “I fostered many relationships that I will forever cherish. I have met many people who have walked with me through my educational pursuits and life events. I have gained mentors who continue to guide me. This is where true friendships are made.”

While their mother didn’t attend SIU, the sisters said, she is still a very important member of their Saluki family.

“She has been our number one cheerleader,” Fanta Saidou said. “She has encouraged each of our Saluki journeys. She blessed us moving far away from home to attend SIU because she trusts the community and knew that at SIU, we would be in good hands. She loves the SIU community and enjoys wearing her Saluki apparel whenever she can.”

Their parents watched each of their children celebrate graduations at SIU and are expecting their youngest daughter to follow in their footsteps.

Future steps

After graduation, Fanta Saidou will embark on her career in public health. She said she is still figuring out the next steps but trusts it will all turn out in her favor. Fanta Saidou aspires to help other women achieve their dreams and goals. Oumou Saidou said she is hoping to obtain a job in management. She doesn’t have any particulars in mind right now but does want to get some work experience before she returns in fall 2023 for her Ph.D. program.

Both sisters encourage future generations to come and experience SIU, especially international students. “No dream is too big,” said Oumou Saidou.

“SIU is the place where students not only grow in knowledge and expertise but also a place where proper supports are in place to assist. At SIU, future leaders are made — leaders that shape the future, leaders that improve and transform lives and communities they touch!” said Fanta Saidou.