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Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama

Source: Chicago Tribune / Getty

As reported earlier today, former President Barack Obama’s step-grandmother and philanthropist Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama has died at the age of 99. After receiving treatment at a hospital in Kisumu, Western Kenya for an illness that hasn’t been disclosed, the matriarch’s passing is now being mourned by the Obama family and across the world.

“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’s tribute to his grandmother on Instagram began. “Born in the first quarter of the last century, in Nyanza Province, on the shores of Lake Victoria, she had no formal schooling, and in the ways of her tribe, she was married off to a much older man while only a teen. She would spend the rest of her life in the tiny village of Alego, in a small home built of mud-and thatch brick and without electricity or indoor plumbing. There she raised eight children, tended to her goats and chickens, grew an assortment of crops, and took what the family didn’t use to sell at the local open-air market.”

“Although not his birth mother, Granny would raise my father as her own,” his obituary continued. Sharing how the matriarch’s decision to take in his father paved the way for generations of success and history to be passed down, he continued, “And it was in part thanks to her love and encouragement that he was able to defy the odds and do well enough in school to get a scholarship to attend an American university. When our family had difficulties, her homestead was a refuge for her children and grandchildren, and her presence was a constant, stabilizing force. When I first traveled to Kenya to learn more about my heritage and father, who had passed away by then, it was Granny who served as a bridge to the past, and it was her stories that helped fill a void in my heart.”

“During the course of her life,” he shared, “Granny would witness epochal changes taking place around the globe: world war, liberation movements, moon landings, and the advent of the computer age. She would live to fly on jets, receive visitors from around the world, and see one of her grandsons get elected to the United States presidency. And yet her essential spirit—strong, proud, hard-working, unimpressed with conventional marks of status and full of common sense and good humor—never changed.”

Before the post ended, the former president concluded his tribute by saying, “We will miss her dearly, but celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta memorialized the philanthropist as well by noting, “The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values.”

Regarding her activism, Mama Sarah will be remembered most for her fight to empower young girls and orphans through her Mama Sarah Obama Foundation which aimed to make access to education and food easier. According to the Kenyan president’s release,  she also helped others “especially in her Nyang’oma Kogelo home in Siaya County where she initiated several community development projects.”

According to NBC News, Mama Sarah’s daughter Marsat Onyango shared that the matriarch died today around “4 a.m. local time.” As per their sources, the philanthropist had been “ill for a week before being taken to the hospital.” Family spokesperson for the Obamas in Kenya Sheik Musa Ismail additional told the outlet, “Mama was sick with normal diseases she did not die of Covid-19.”

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