Auma Obama: “It’s up to each individual to improve his or her own life”
Through her Sauti Kuu Foundation, Auma Obama is supporting children and young people in her native Kenya. The Germany-Alumna is convinced that, with the right support, everyone can take control of their own lives.
Eschewing the limelight, Dr Auma Obama is most interested in achieving something for others, rather than for herself. Her goal is to give as many people as possible the key to unlock all the doors that could close on them in life. “I’ve always been grappling with the question of how you can show people that, whatever adversities they may face, they can always find a way through them,” says the German language graduate and sociologist. Born in a south-west Kenyan village in 1960, she later made her way to the metropolises of the world, something which has shaped her outlook on life. “It’s up to each individual to manage and improve his or her own life,” stresses Obama. “Other people can only support you in this endeavour.”
She did a great deal with the support that she received: Thanks to a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), she was able to commence her German studies in Heidelberg in 1980, ultimately graduating with a Master’s degree. A further DAAD scholarship enabled her to undertake a PhD at the University of Bayreuth, where she wrote her thesis on the concept of work in German and Kenyan literature and culture. Auma Obama then spent a number of years living in Germany before moving to the UK for personal reasons in the mid-1990s. She later returned to Kenya, initially working for an international aid organisation.
Passing on what she has learned
What she brought home from Europe was far more than education and degree qualifications. “I took away with me an awareness that my voice was and is strong and counts for something.” That is the heart of the message that she wants to get across to currently disadvantaged young people in Kenya and other African states: Be proud and self-confident without being arrogant. Your opportunities come from within you – seize them.
“You are your future” is the motto of the foundation which Auma Obama set up in Kenya and which has also been working in Germany since 2013. Its name, “Sauti Kuu”, is Kiswahili for “strong voices”. Through her work in the foundation, the Germany-Alumna intends to pass on what she has learned. Obama recalls that she was a quiet child and that it took her some time to understand that she could change things by finding her voice and learning to use it to good effect. The same is true of everyone, she says: “Our voices are strong when we speak up and find other voices to join us.”
Sport and education are the key to the experience that Auma Obama has gained and wishes to pass on to children in rural Kenya, particularly those from a disadvantaged background, through Sauti Kuu. Opportunities in these regions are still few and far between, and many local people’s lives are characterised by poverty. Young people often move to urban areas hoping to find a better future there. However, many of them end up in the slums and lose sight of their goals. Obama is convinced in this context that these young people can build a future for themselves in a rural context if they leverage their skills. “We’re succeeding in our work because we’re not taking away from young people the responsibility for improving their lives,” she stresses. She adds that, while most of them do have an idea of how to solve their problems, they often lack the courage to put the solution into practice. Obama says that what the foundation seeks to show them can be summed up in the phrase “Use what you have to get what you need”.
Doing something for yourself rather than remaining in poverty
In mid-2018, following a long construction period, Auma Obama opened the new Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Education Centre in Alego, south-west Kenya. The centre includes a football pitch, a vocational training facility, an IT laboratory and a library. Also attending the opening ceremony was her half-brother, former US President Barack Obama. His presence attracted a high degree of media attention for the centre, not only in Kenya but also internationally. “I don’t accept the statement that we’re poor,” said Auma Obama at the centre’s inauguration. She added that poverty was no excuse for remaining in misery and waiting for others to do something, and that even those that felt they were poor could always do something for themselves rather than asking others for help.
With these words, the Germany-Alumna described her basic attitude to life and at the same time outlined the prospects available to people in rural areas. It all begins with looking down, quite literally at the ground. Many regions of Kenya have fertile soils, which, if worked properly, can provide a good income. In the workshops and centres of the Sauti Kuu Foundation, children learn from a very young age how working in the field can be enjoyable, not least by being entrusted with animals to care for. The children and young people can sell the fruit and vegetables that they harvest and use the money to pay for things such as school fees. In this way, they learn how to help themselves, as well as receiving instruction in agricultural techniques. This is the best possible foundation that they can lay for their own future, as it provides them with a key for unlocking every door.