Eddy Odari: “Helping others like others helped me”
Name: Dr Eddy Okoth Odari
Lives in: Nairobi, Kenya
Country of origin: Kenya
Period in Germany: 2011 to 2014
Education and research institution: Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
Occupation: Lecturer at the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
“Nothing good happens unless you do it.” This quotation by the famous German writer Erich Kästner could just as easily be the motto of Kenyan-born Germany-Alumnus Eddy Odari. Alongside his career, he has made it his mission to help socially marginalised people.
Mr Odari, as well as your work as a researcher and university lecturer, you are actively involved in the community. What exactly do you do?
Eddy Odari: In 2012, I founded the Ogallo-Osako Memorial Foundation together with two friends. I want to use this foundation to bring hope to areas where people have lost it, mostly in the form of small projects in villages in western Kenya. There is an African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. The foundation aims to be a part of this village and encourage people to work together to overcome the challenges in their community.
For example, we have built a small home for children with physical disabilities, where we currently provide support for 26 children. We also take care of their school fees, provide mobility aids such as wheelchairs and prostheses and use donations from Germany and Italy to pay the salaries of social workers and a live-in nurse, as well as surgery costs. Thanks to this support, seven children are now able to walk unaided for the first time in their lives.
The home has also had a positive impact in the village. People no longer hide their disabled family members away for lengthy periods at home, for instance, and the village community has taken responsibility for providing food for the children’s home. This project shows that there’s often no need for huge projects with international donors! When the community really works together, a lot of good can also be done at very little expense.
After you realised that, what did you do next?
Eddy Odari: That realisation inspired a second project, which I launched with the help of another Germany-Alumnus. We want to enable rural communities to live and work more sustainably, so we opened a training centre where we offer courses on growing drought-resistant crops. Our “Eggs for Education” initiative provides hens for women, who put aside 30 per cent of the proceeds from selling the eggs for their children’s education and 20 per cent for healthcare costs.
Success stories of the Ogallo-Osako Memorial Foundation in Kenya
You haven’t always been in a position to help others though, have you?
Eddy Odari: I grew up in a slum in Kisumu, a city in western Kenya, with my mother and six siblings and needed to earn money from a young age (immediately after my high school) to contribute to the family income and support my younger siblings in school.
Even back when I was at school, however, I was already very committed to improving the lives of other young people. I found it unacceptable, for instance, that girls stopped going to school once they got their period because they didn’t have the sanitary products they needed. Because of my involvement in the community, I gained the support of priests and nuns who paid my school fees. Later on, I was fortunate enough to receive scholarships for a Master’s degree in Nairobi and then for my PhD in Munich. I could hardly believe that someone in Germany wanted to pay my tuition fees through the Catholic Academic Exchange Service (KAAD).
After that, I felt the need to give something back to the community. I wanted to lift disadvantaged people up the social ladder, just like others had lifted me. Lots of people with this mindset can trigger a chain reaction.
What do you teach your students – apart from the Medical Microbiology syllabus?
Eddy Odari: On my university courses, students are first required to identify the most important local challenges in the areas they’re from and then allocate them to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) accordingly. But that’s just the start. I’m not just giving students an introduction to the SDGs. I also give them the opportunity to actually implement one of the goals on a small scale. To do this, the students form working groups with members from a range of departments and put the SDGs into practice in everyday life.
And what role do the SDGs play for you as Germany-Alumnus?
Eddy Odari: In Nairobi, the Germany-Alumni get together once a month for a social gathering known as a “Stammtisch”. At first, we just reminisced together about our times in Germany, but then talk kept turning to the current political situation in Kenya as well. We ended up having more intensive discussions about the SDGs. Initially, we were just talking about them, but then we asked ourselves: what can we do? And that’s why we’re currently organising a meeting for local authorities on implementing 2030 Agenda.
This, too, confirms my strong belief that, when we work together, even deep divides can be overcome. As Alumni, we need to stay in touch with our friends in Germany. I owe a great deal of the foundation’s success to them, as they not only mobilised a lot of donations to it, but also share my belief in the idea behind it.
Eddy Odari firmly believes that “together, we can bridge the gap”. Do you have similar experiences in your work, your daily life or your role as Germany-Alumni? Tell us all about them in the comments!