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Darpan Salutes

Umra Omar: Transforming Lives

Darpan News Desk, 26 Mar, 2020
  • Umra Omar: Transforming Lives

Each month, Omar and her team of medical professionals get on a boat with medicines and deliver medical services to people in approximately 15 villages, translating into roughly 1,000 patients per month.

Umra Omar won CNN Hero of the Year award in 2016 for her NGO that delivers lifesaving medical services to people residing in some of the most isolated and dangerous corners of Kenya. In 2016, Omar ventured out on a journey to create Safari Doctors, a community-based organization that continues to transform the lives of those that do not have access to medical services and basic life-saving resources. When Omar set out on her mission, she had to leave her one-year-old son in the care of her parents, while the activist and her team of doctors and nurses set off to open clinics across villages.

The organization is based in Lamu, Kenya, with a mission to “provide innovative, community-driven healthcare solutions that promote well-being for marginalized communities,” according to Safari Doctors’ website. The team specifically serves indigenous Aweer and Bajuni communities that live within the archipelago and on the mainland near the border with Somalia.

Each month, Omar and her team of medical professionals get on a boat with medicines and deliver medical services to people in approximately 15 villages, translating into roughly 1,000 patients per month. Together, the team works towards a variety of medical needs and requirements of the community, for example, child immunizations, communicable diseases, chronic conditions, pregnant women and mothers, and family planning. The team also has a youth Health Ambassadors program where it engages young men and women to participate in health education and educate others within the community so they can help facilitate the work of Safari Doctors.

The organization also has a wing, Safari Vets, that specifically caters to the well being and care of animals. It provides care for hundreds of animals while educating the community on healthy lifestyle practices. Due to her work within the community, Omar was awarded the 2017 United Nations Person of the Year award. According to the UN website, “Her recognition is as a result of her tireless efforts in delivering primary healthcare to over a dozen marginalized communities in her home County of Lamu.” The award recognizes Omar for her continuous work in helping Kenya achieve its sustainable development goals. Through her work, Omar is highlighting the most neglected members of the community that are often left without basic life supplies, leading to serious medical conditions.

Omar pursued her graduate studies in Washington, D.C., and returned to Lamu to address the dire medical conditions that her community members had been living in. In an interview with Hélène Stelian, Omar mentions, “Safari Doctors began with just a simple idea of wanting to make a difference in people’s wellbeing. All I had to do was raise four hundred dollars a month to pay for a nurse through the government and fuel a motorbike for him to go around different villages delivering primary healthcare. Consistency, persistence, and dedication are what water this seed of purpose into a tree and before you know it you are part of a forest of change.”

Omar and her crew travel through multiple means – boat, road and air to extend medical care to individuals and families living in the remotest and insecure regions. As a woman, her work is not easy but she continues to pay her visits, widen the scope of the programs and raises awareness on healthcare amongst members of the community. In an interview with Forbes, Omar describes the strong support from her family as the driving force behind the resilient pursue of her mission. She tells Forbes, “We come from a family of progressive men that have nurtured very strong women, despite all the misconceptions about our community – being Bajuni and Muslim. From my grandfather, who was adamant my mother should go to school, to my father who had a no-compromise attitude to education. My mother traveled abroad leaving an infant and a baby across continents in pursuit of higher education. All this while the community consider her and her husband to have flown over the cuckoo’s nest. Absolutely crazy. When many people think of feminists they think of the bold women, but one of the greatest feminists that I know is the compassionate and progressive man of a father that I have.”

To support Omar’s work, visit: www.safaridoctors.org


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