On March 29, 2021, Sarah Obama, the grandmother of the former president Obama’s family, passed away. At the time, she was 99 years old.
In her little rural Kogelo village, Mama Sarah, better known as the former president’s stepgrandmother, supported education for girls and orphans.
She passed away while receiving treatment at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya, in the country’s west, according to her daughter Marsat Onyango.
“She passed away this morning. We are devastated,” Onyango said over the phone to The Associated Press.
“Mama was sick with normal diseases; she did not die of Covid-19,” said Sheik Musa Ismail, a family spokesman, adding that she had tested negative for the sickness. He stated that she had been sick for a week before being admitted.
President Barack Obama expressed his sympathies to his family.
“My family and I are mourning the loss of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, affectionately known to many as “Mama Sarah,” but known to us as “Dani” or Granny,” the former president said on Twitter, alongside a photo of himself as a child with his grandmother. “We will miss her terribly, but we will remember her long and remarkable life with gratitude.”
“Mama Sarah’s death is a huge blow to our country. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman, a matriarch who held the Obama family together and was an icon of family values,” Kenyatta added.
Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o expressed his sympathies to the people of Kogelo village for the loss of a matriarch and said she would be remembered for her work to encourage education and empower orphans.
“She was a philanthropist who raised funds to pay for orphans’ school fees,” he explained.
Sarah Obama was President Obama’s grandfather’s second wife, and she raised his father, Barack Obama, Sr. The family is of the Luo ethnic group of Kenya.
President Obama adored her and referred to her as “Granny” in his biography, “Dreams from My Father.” He remembered meeting her during a trip to his father’s hometown in 1988 and how their awkwardness as they struggled to speak became a loving bond.
In 2009, she attended his first inauguration as President. Later, Obama brought up his grandmother once more in a speech he gave to the UN General Assembly in September 2014.
For many years, Sarah Obama has taken care of orphans at her home. The Mama Sara Obama Foundation provided school supplies, uniforms, basic medical needs, and school fees to children who had lost their parents.
Even as an adult, she admitted to the Associated Press in 2014, letters would arrive but she couldn’t read them. She said she didn’t want her kids to grow up without an education. She made sure that every member of her family attended school as a result.
She recalls riding the president’s father’s bicycle six miles to school every day from the family’s small hamlet of Kogelo to the larger town of Ngiya to ensure he received the education she never had.
“I love education,” Sarah Obama remarked, since it teaches youngsters “how to be self-sufficient,” especially girls who are often denied the opportunity to attend school.
“If a woman gets an education, she will educate not only her family but the entire village,” she explained.
She was honoured by the United Nations in 2014 with the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Education Pioneer Award in celebration of her work to increase education.