Alumni Stories: Maria Omare and Kenya’s Somesha App – A Virtual Inclusive Education Innovation

The worldwide isolation created by COVID-19 in 2020 has done great harm to education, family stability, and physical and mental health. However, it has also inspired major innovations in inclusion that enable those who are especially vulnerable and isolated – individuals with disabilities – to access learning resources, trustworthy information, and expertise on education and personal supports when they harder to reach than ever. Earlier this year, Spring 2017 Professional Fellows alumna Maria Omare announced the launch of Somesha, a mobile learning Android app created by her organization, The Action Foundation Kenya (TAF). The app is one of the first of its kind in the world to emerge during COVID-19, and delivers digital books, interactive media, public information, and more to children with disabilities, their families, and teachers.

Children in Kibera, Kenya, take part in the in-person Somesha initiative’s READS Club for inclusive education before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Somesha (which means “to read” in Kiswahili) arose out of The Action Foundation’s non-virtual inclusive education resources. Maria, the organization’s executive director and founder, oversees a number of TAF initiatives focused on inclusive education, women’s empowerment, child protection, and health and well-being in Kenya. The Somesha app enables children, families, and teacher to access The Action Foundation’s resources in one place directly from their mobile devices at home. These essential resources include:

  • A library of digital books in English and Kiswahili, including books that explain COVID-19, stories about other subjects, and coping strategies for children with disabilities.
  • A Resources page for teachers that provides trainings, toolkits, and other aids that offer advice on how to deliver inclusive education via remote learning devices and engage directly with students with disabilities at risk of falling behind significantly.
  • Ask an Expert – a tool that lets parents submit questions to professional disability specialists about how to teach their children, provide home supports, and help them when they fall behind. Questions go to an expert on TAF’s staff or affiliated specialist or service provider in Nairobi.
  • News & Updates – Regularly updated, reliable, trustworthy articles and toolkits about COVID-19 that families and teachers can use to stay informed.
Left: Main menu of the Somesha Android App.                                                            Right: Stress guides for children with disabilities available in English and Kiswahili in Somesha.

The Somesha app is updated frequently with new media in diverse formats, including Somesha Stories, video segments with captions and sign language interpretation that provide useful and entertaining information related to COVID-19. Maria and her team develops these segments with Signs TV, a platform that produces sign language media content in Kenya.

The Action Foundation and Signs TV film an informational segment for the Somesha Stories series.
The Action Foundation and Signs TV film an informational segment for the Somesha Stories series.

its Ask an Expert and News features fill especially significant gaps for families of children with disabilities, as the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated many individuals from qualified experts while surrounding them with false information. Somesha is actively countering that in innovative ways.

A "Somesha Stories" video in Kiswahili explains how to check someone's temperature (with Kenyan Sign Language interpretation provided).
A “Somesha Stories” video in Kiswahili explains how to check someone’s temperature (with Kenyan Sign Language interpretation provided).

Maria has promoted Somesha online and via TV, and The Action Foundation is working with Signs TV to expand its content and reach. She looks forward to continuing its work beyond the pandemic and presenting it as a model internationally.

Maria spent her U.S. Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts Boston School for Global Inclusion and Social Development (UMB SGISD).