Obama's step-grandmother in US to promote schools

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2014 6:17 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Barack Obama's 94-year-old step-grandmother is in the United States this week to promote her dream of a modern education and health complex in the western Kenyan village where the president's father was raised and is buried — and hopes to see the president again.

Sarah Obama, who was married to the president's late grandfather, said in an interview through an interpreter on Monday that she had "a vision" sitting under her favorite mango tree in the tiny village of Kogelo in 2013 of a legacy that would continue her work helping children and live on long after she is gone.

Debra Akello, executive director of the new Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, said the family matriarch will outline her "legacy plan" at the United Nations on Wednesday at a ceremony to launch Women's Entrepreneurship Day, where she will be among a group of women honored.

Sarah Obama will head to Washington on Thursday and remain in the United States until Nov. 25. She is likely to meet the president, but Akello said "due to security reasons I just don't know when that's going to happen."

Sarah Obama was the second wife of Obama's grandfather and helped raise his father, Barack Obama Sr. They belong to the Luo tribe and she speaks Luo.

The president referred to her as "Granny" in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father," and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to his father's homeland and their awkwardness as they struggled to communicate. She came to his first inauguration in 2009. He spoke about her again in his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly saying: "Today, whether you live in downtown Manhattan or in my grandmother's village more than 200 miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world's greatest libraries."

Akello, a Luo-speaking Kenyan who now lives in California and is also acting as Sarah Obama's interpreter, said she also plan to visit schools in New York and Washington and to meet with foundations and individuals to raise money for the first part of the "legacy plan" — a new Early Childhood Development Center.

The foundation has already raised $100,000 of the $250,000 needed, Akello said.

The other pieces of Sarah Obama's $12 million vision include rehabilitating the dilapidated Senator Barack Obama primary and secondary schools that were renamed in his honor after he visited Kogelo as a senator in 2006, modernizing a modest clinic that the foundation helps fund, and building a vocational center to teach youngsters who can't go to college skills such as information technology, tailoring and carpentry.

The land in Kogelo is ready, Akello said, and award-winning German-trained architect Diebedo Francis Kere, who is from Burkina Faso and based in Berlin, has designed the complex.

"Mama Sarah said ... I'm living on borrowed time. I'm already 94 years old. Most people of my age are gone ... and I want to see it before I leave this world," Akello said.