Sarah Obama holds a photo of her grandson Barack Obama in Kogelo, Kenya as she waits for the February 2008 Super Tuesday primary results. She died on Monday after a brief illness and is remembered as a beloved matriarch and philanthropist. Paula Bronstein / Getty Images Hide caption
Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
Sarah Obama, philanthropist and step-grandmother of former US President Barack Obama, is honored.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement that Sarah Obama passed away on Monday while being treated in a hospital in the port city of Kisumu. He said she was 99 years old, although the Associated Press reports that she was “at least” that age. Anyis Nyong’o, governor of Kisumu, said she died after a brief illness.
The Obama family matriarch, widely known as “Mama Sarah,” was a loved one who spent much of her life promoting education for orphans and girls. Kenyatta said she would be remembered for her philanthropic work and the community development projects she led in her home village of Kogelo.
“The death of Mama Sarah is a severe blow to our nation,” said Kenyatta. “We lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held the Obama family together and was an icon of family values.”
Nyong’o described her as a “role model” and “mother figure” who helped raise money for school fees for orphans and other vulnerable children, and who also supported many widows.
She was the second wife of the president’s grandfather, the AP reports, and she helped raise his father, Barack Obama Sr. The family is part of the Kenyan Luo ethnic group, and she spoke Luo and some Swahili, according to the New York Times.
President Obama referred to her as “Grandma” in his memoir Dreams From My Father, according to the AP. He wrote about meeting her while visiting Kenya in 1988, describing how their relationship, initially uncomfortable due to communication problems, “developed into a warm bond.”
He visited her as a Senator in Kenya in 2006, and she attended his first inauguration as President in 2009. He also met her during a trip to his parent company in 2015 – the first sitting US President to visit Kenya – and again in 2018.
“My family and I mourn the loss of our beloved grandmother Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, who is lovingly known to many as ‘Mama Sarah’ but is known to us as ‘Dani’ or Grandma,” wrote the former president on Monday’s photo of the two on Twitter. “We will miss them dearly, but we will celebrate their long and remarkable lives with gratitude.”
My family and I mourn our beloved grandmother Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, who is lovingly known to many as “Mama Sarah” but to us as “Dani” or Grandma. We will miss them dearly, but we will celebrate their long and remarkable lives with gratitude. pic.twitter.com/avDY4f1PVu
– Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 29, 2021
The President’s half-sister, Auma Obama, a social activist who works in Kenya and Germany, mourned her grandmother in a tweet, describing her as the most important person in her life and “my inspiration, my rock, mine.” Comfort zone, my safe space. ”
In a 2014 interview with NPR, Sarah Obama said through a translator that she never went to school because it was more difficult for women to get an education at that time. She told the AP that same year that she didn’t want her children to be illiterate, and recalled cycling the president’s father six miles to school every day.
She later focused on helping other children, especially girls and orphans, get the education she couldn’t get. She told NPR that she encouraged her to go to school “so the cycle of poverty can end,” and that she sometimes used her grandson as an example of the doors education could open.
Her work went beyond encouragement as she raised funds to pay for the school and housed often orphaned children in her home.
“I help the orphans and widows, especially the young girls who have been orphaned by their parents who are dying of HIV,” she said. “I’m their sole parent right now, so I’m helping them pay the school fees and also get them the things they need, like sanitary towels, books, necessities like a pencil, school uniforms. That’s what I do.”
According to the New York Times, she founded the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation in 2010 to raise funds to build an educational campus in her village and sponsor scholarships for Kenyan youth.
In 2014 she received the Education Pioneer Award at the United Nations as part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. One page on the award’s website said she was “broken by the sight of parentless children in her country … who battled the AIDS epidemic for the past three decades” and “worked tirelessly with community leaders to address critical needs to satisfy these orphans. ” . ”
That year, she told NPR that many of the children she was involved in raising enrolled in colleges such as Nairobi University, Moi University, and Bondo University.
“These are orphans that I helped pay their school fees, and now it’s my pleasure to see them in the universities that are about to graduate,” she said. “There are a lot of success stories and it just makes me happy and keeps me going.”