Sarah Onyango Obama, stepmother of former US President Barack Obama, died on Monday in a hospital in western Kenya, relatives say. She was at least 99 years old.
Mother Sarah, as the stepmother of the former US president was often called, was a philanthropist who promoted education for girls and orphans.
She died around 4 a.m. local time while being treated at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city in the west of the country, according to her daughter Marsat Onyango.
“It is true that she has gone to be with the Lord,” an emotional Onyango told reporters.
Once a simple country woman, Sarah Obama was for a long time best known for the hot porridge and donuts she served at a local school.
But she became world famous with the 2008 election of her stepson Barack, who became the first black American president.
She was the third wife of the former US president’s grandfather and helped raise her father, Barack Obama, Sr. The family is part of Kenya’s ethnic group Luo.
Provide food, education for orphans
For decades, Sarah Obama has helped orphans and raised some in her home. The Mama Sarah Obama Foundation helped provide food and education to children who lost their parents – by providing school supplies, uniforms, basic medical supplies and school fees.
She will be remembered for her work to promote education to empower orphans, said Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o as he lamented the people of Kogelo village for losing a matriarch.
“She was a philanthropist who mobilized funds to pay school fees for orphans,” he said.
Her famous granddaughter often showed affection for her, referring to her as “grandmother” in her memoir, “Dreams of My Father.” He described the meeting with her during his trip in 1988 to his father’s homeland and their initial discomfort when they struggled to communicate which developed into a warm bond.
She attended his first inauguration as president in 2009. Later, Obama spoke about his grandmother again in his speech in September 2014 to the UN General Assembly.
‘I love education’
In a 2014 interview with AP, she said that even as an adult, letters would come but she could not read them. She said she did not want her children to be illiterate, so she saw that all her family’s children went to school.
She recalled trampling the president’s father 60 miles (nine kilometers) to school on the back of her bicycle every day from the family’s hometown of Kogelo to the larger city of Ngiya to ensure he received the education she never had.
“I love education,” said Sarah Obama, as children “learn that they can be self-sufficient,” especially girls who too often have not had the opportunity to go to school.
“If a woman gets an education, she will not only educate her family but educate the whole village,” she said.
Details of the preparations for her funeral will be announced later, her daughter said. Sarah Obama was a Muslim and it is not clear if she will be buried according to the methods of her faith that dictate that she should be buried within 24 hours of death.
( Jowharwith AP and AFP)