Humans of Handprint: Meet Maria Omare, CEO of TAF – Empowering Communities

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It’s often the individual threads that make the most compelling stories. Welcome to “Humans of Handprint,” a special segment dedicated to shining a spotlight on the incredible individuals who are the driving force behind Handprint’s impactful journey. As we delve into the lives, passions, and experiences of these remarkable people, we discover the heart and soul of our impact partners that thrive on the dedication and inspiration of its diverse team.

Join us on this journey as we get to know the faces and voices that breathe life into Handprint’s mission, and witness firsthand the profound impact they have on the world.

In this chapter of HoH we sat with Maria Omare, CEO and Founder of The Action Foundation, while she shared with us her journey and experiences.

The Genesis of The Action Foundation

T.a.f Ibuka Young Leader Mentorship Program At Kawangware, Nairobi.
Young disabled girls attend a youth mentorship that was provided by The Action Foundation (T.A.F) in Kwangware, Nairobi.

In the heart of Kenya, a remarkable organisation is making significant strides towards creating an inclusive and resilient community. A community where children, women, and girls with disabilities can thrive. The Action Foundation’s(TAF) story began in 2009 when Maria volunteered with the Special Olympics in Kenya. She had been studying nutrition. Her role involved supporting the parents of children with disabilities. She helped them understand how to meet their children’s health and nutritional needs. This experience opened her eyes to the daily challenges these families faced. These include limited access to essential health and educational services. Determined to make a difference, Maria started a student-led club to support these families, which eventually grew into The Action Foundation in 2010.

The Action Foundation is driven by the passion to create communities where every child, woman, and girl with disabilities can have a good life. The organisation focuses on local leadership and community involvement to ensure sustainable and impactful changes. Their approach is holistic, addressing various aspects of health, education, and empowerment to break down barriers and foster inclusion.

Key Programs and Initiatives

1. Child Health and Development

The foundation provides comprehensive health services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and paediatric medical support, across four centresin Nairobi. These services are offered free of charge, with a strong emphasis on parental involvement. TAF also collaborates with the Nairobi County government to enhance healthcare delivery in local health facilities.

2. Inclusive Early Childhood Education

To support the educational needs of children with disabilities, TAF works closely with the Ministry of Education and local schools. They prepare school environments, train teachers, and provide learning materials to ensure inclusive education. Their efforts also include a mobile application for storytelling, promoting literacy and numeracy skills.

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3. Adolescent Girls and Young Women’s Empowerment.

This program targets girls with disabilities, both in and out of school, providing mentorship, sexual and reproductive health education, and career development opportunities. TAF’s initiatives include a STEM education program and digital skills training to empower these young women to pursue their aspirations and become economically independent.

Advocacy and Awareness

TAF actively combats stigma and discrimination at various levels. They organise community awareness campaigns, run regular sensitization programs for parents. They also try to collaborate with local radio stations to spread their message. At the national level, TAF engages with government ministries to advocate for the rights and needs of children with disabilities, ensuring their voices are heard in policy-making processes.

TAF’s success in working with the government stems from their approach of co-creating programs and involving government representatives at every stage. This collaborative effort ensures that their initiatives align with national priorities and gain the necessary support for scaling up. Their partnerships with the Ministry of Health, Education, and Labor, as well as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, exemplify this integrated approach.

Through participation in international forums and regional conferences, TAF shares their insights and evidence-based practices with a global audience. This knowledge exchange helps to raise awareness about the economic and social impact of supporting children with disabilities and advocates for increased global investment in disability-inclusive initiatives.

Challenges and Future Plans

Dsc04957Despite their successes, TAF faces challenges such as persistent stigma and limited funding. However, their commitment to co-creating solutions with the government and community stakeholders helps them navigate these hurdles. TAF’s plans for 2024 include scaling up their health services, relocating to a new headquarters,. Thay also want to launch  a mobile STEM Center of Excellence. These initiatives aim to enhance their organisational capacity and broaden their reach to support more children with disabilities across Kenya.

Maria’s Role and Daily Contributions

As the head of strategy and fundraising at TAF, Maria’s role is crucial. Her daily tasks range from engaging with partners and stakeholders to visiting community centres and participating in learning visits. Maria’s leadership and dedication are pivotal in driving TAF’s mission forward and ensuring the organisation’s sustainability and growth. Maria’s journey into nutrition began with one of her class teachers persuading her to enter the field.

“It has been worth [studying nutrition], because nutrition is a strong component of how we intervene!”

Starting TAF has made her realise all milestones and how much the organisation has grown. He feels it has helped her appreciate all the support they get from the public and from Handprint. Additionally, one of her favourite moments was when a child comes into therapy and attains their milestones to communicate with others’ around them.

If you would like to know more about The Action FOundation and their projects, visit The Action Foundation. Also, if you would like to know more about Handprint’s education partners, read our ‘Humans of Handprint’ article on ISF.