Yes, We Can!
Tell us about your life before the creation of the Sauti Kuu foundation?
A. O. : I was born in Kenya and grew up there. I studied in Germany and completed my master’s degree at the Heidelberg University and my doctorate at the University of Bayreuth. Parallel to that, I studied at the Berlin Film and Television Academy. I lived and worked in Germany for several years before moving to England, where I worked in the Children’s Services. I then returned home to Kenya to work for CARE International, an international aid organization. An important part of my work at CARE was the establishment and coordination of the network “Sport for Social Change”. This initiative brought together organizations from different countries in East Africa, from Egypt and Bangladesh, all using sport to reinforce positive social behavior among the youth, girls in particular.
Why did you leave this position to create your own foundation?
A. O. : I moved back to Kenya because I knew that I needed to give back to my community. Before I started my foundation, I did not feel that the work I was doing was really effective, because it was not sustainable. We were donor driven, constantly chasing after funds, because if they dried up, the work stopped. We were not driven by the impact we had on our beneficiaries. I wanted to develop a model that focused on the children and youth we worked with; a model that worked holistically and for the long term, enabling children and young people to take responsibility for their lives, with a focus on moving them away from poverty and helping them become responsible, financially independent and stable young adults. I am very proud that Sauti Kuu is upholding these values.
What kind of project are you putting forward?
A. O. : Sauti Kuu works to enable disadvantaged children and young people, particularly in the rural areas and urban slums in Kenya, to recognize their potential and the power of using their voice (Hence Sauti Kuu, meaning “Powerful Voices” in Kiswahili). To recognize the power of one’s own voice also means to become aware of, and appreciate, one’s self. This leads to taking a stand and actively participating in what happens with one’s life. One is no longer a passive victim waiting for someone from outside to save them.
Currently the foundation is building a sports, resources and vocational center that will implement Sauti Kuu’s three-key program in Western Kenya: Personality Development, as well as Character Building, Education and Training and Sustainable Economic Growth. There, we will provide children and youth with a physical and mental space, where they will be able to train, learn, fulfill their potential. Within these facilities they will be able to develop their social and technical skills through sports, vocational training and income generating activities.
How do Sauti Kuu’s actions relate to the issue of health?
A. O. : The Sauti Kuu foundation works to develop an awareness about healthy living in rural children, young people and their families by creating an awareness about the value of the land, and about the cultivation of local indigenous crops, vegetables and food, to improve nutrition and food security.
What is your perception of relationships between Western countries and Africa?
A. O. : Thanks to the World Wide Web, today, on the African continent, we have access to as much knowledge as the rest of the world. This means that opportunities are unlimited for us. We just have to grab them. The West must start speaking to us as equals. It should no longer feel obligated to give us fish, nor teach us how to fish. The West must ask us whether or not we eat fish! This is when real conversation starts and domination stops.
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a project striving for more equality in this world?
A. O. : A project that will enable all to access healthcare, quality education and a good standard of living must ensure that these activities recognize and address real challenges. In close and active collaboration with beneficiaries, the program must address the realities they face, and not, in the case of Africa, a Western pre-conception of it. Most importantly, the project must be holistic and embrace a socio-economic approach to the situation. As a result, the beneficiaries will enjoy a better standard of living in harmony with each other, but also in harmony with the environment.
What advice would you give to someone willing to get involved in improving the health of tomorrow?
A. O. : Do not destroy your planet with chemicals and pesticides. Preserve it for yourself and future generations. And, where possible, grow your own food – organically.
Where did you find the inspiration to improve the life of others?
A. O. : Many different people from very different walks of life give me inspiration and have played a key part in helping me realize my vision and do my work. They are not necessarily “famous” or “personalities” in the conventional way, but they all are stars! There are also, among others, children, including my own daughter.
By Fleur Weinberg