Photo above: Left to right: Ephraim Njoroge, Executive Director of SOWO; Dr. Kenneth Kambona, Secretariat for Mama Sarah Obama; SOWO
Chair, Peter Oduor; Marsat Obama, daughter of Dr. Mama Sarah Obama; Dr. Mama Sarah Obama; Annie Bynoe, Executive Director
of Knights Table; and Steve Kerr, who ran for city councillor in Brampton last year. Photo by John Wolf.
By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
PEEL, Ontario — Mama Sarah Obama, grandmother of US President Barack Obama, says she knows the empowerment that comes with education.
The community leader is visiting Canada under the invitation of GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon and Harun Otwoma Foundation and is seeking support
for the programs she has launched through her non-governmental organization, Safeguard Orphans and Widows Organization (SOWO).
These programs focus on areas such as education and literacy, youth and women’s empowerment, food security, environmental sustainability, culture and
sports, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and shelter.
Last Thursday, she was honoured by the Knights Table, an organization in Brampton, Ontario that works to alleviate hunger in the Region of Peel.
“This is my story. I was born in the year, 1922; I grew up like any other girl in the village. I did not go to school but appreciated the value of education. I struggled with Obama, Sr., taking him to school on a bicycle a distance of 30 kilometres daily. Helping orphans and widows is a God-given responsibility. I do my work with passion,” Obama said in her message, which was read by Peter Oduor, chairman of SOWO, because she speaks Swahili and knows very little English.
The 94-year-old matriarch of the Obama family has been at the forefront of championing the plight of the orphans, other vulnerable children, the girl child
and widows in Africa.
She lives in Nyang’oma Kogelo village, 30 miles west of western Kenya’s main town, Kisumu. Sarah Onyango Obama, more commonly known as Mama Sarah Obama, is the third wife of Barack Obama›s paternal grandfather.
While they are not biologically related, he calls her “Granny Obama” and she is his only surviving grandparent.
Rick Gavin, president of the board of directors of Knights Table, said the organization helps clients move from crisis to confidence and that Dr. Obama has a similar vision but on an international scale. Mama Sarah Obama was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the Great Lakes University of Kisumu in May 2010 for her role in helping widows and orphans at her Kogelo village.
Adaoma Patterson, advisor, Peel Poverty Reduction Strategy at the Region of Peel, gave an update on the local situation of poverty.
“Things are not well for all of us and it shouldn’t be,” she said, noting that Peel has 1.3 million people and between 12-17% of the population are living in poverty.
People are choosing between rent and buying food, she said, and identified systemic barriers such as the increasing cost of transit in the region.
Speaking about Knights Table, Godwin Darkwah said it has served the needs of people daily dealing with hunger and poverty in Peel for 25 years and that the
organization is dedicated to provide a voice for the voiceless.
“Fifty years ago, most African countries were celebrating the dawn of independence; fifty years later, that dream has died. That dream is being salvaged by a
94-year-old, Sarah Onyango Obama,” said Kenneth Kambona of SOWO.
In 2014, she received an award at a Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans, particularly widows
“Friends, I’m here with you because I want you to help me mobilize resources to continue with my work. To Annie and the people of Canada, I’m passing the baton to you and to my daughter, Marsat, and the rest of the secretariat to accomplish my mission,” Obama said, noting that age is catching up with her and traveling far might become a challenge.
Annie Bynoe, executive director of the organization, was the emcee and introduced a slate of performers that included Martin Ngigi, an artist from Kenya who performed at President Obama’s inauguration; Daneya Sinclair-Brown, Sasha “Blessed”, Cindy Anerio and Jason Wauchope. Lena Shaw performed the Canadian and Kenyan national anthems and Eric Toth shared a youth perspective on community work. Bynoe presented a plaque, on behalf of the organization, to Obama for her community service.
The Kenyan community leader attended the Toronto Marathon on May 3 where she cheered on the Kenyan team and a few events in the Greater Toronto Area hosted by the Friends of Mama Sarah Obama, the Ontario Business Community, and the Rotary Club of Mississauga Airport.
In Ottawa, she attended a special Mother’s Day reception on May 10 held in honour of her, organized by the HERA Mission, the Kenyan Community in Ottawa,
and the East African Students’ Association of Carleton University.
The Mama Sarah Obama Secretariat is the coordination office for all the programs and activities of the nonagenarian. SOWO was founded in 1995 as a welfare
organization on the principle of helping the less fortunate in the society. It was later registered as an NGO in Kenya as a result of the rapidly growing number of orphans and widows impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Mama Sarah Obama was accompanied by her daughter, Marsat Obama, Kenneth Kambona, Peter Oduor, and others. She wraps up her two-week visit to Canada this week.