ADA-PFP Alum Maria Omare Wins UN Disability Innovation Challenge

AUCD Professional Fellows alumna Maria Omare from Nairobi, Kenya, has won a grant from the the UNDP Disability Innovation Challenge for her leadership of the Somesha Stories Project, a platform that delivers accessible media and stories for children that promote inclusive education and early literacy in both English and Swahili. The Somesha Stories Project enables children, parents, and teachers to access educational materials at school and at home in print, digital, visual, audio, and sign language formats. Their accessible, inclusive learning content has been invaluable to ensuring that children with disabilities can pursue education, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Somesha Stories is implemented by The Action Foundation Kenya, an organization of which Maria is the founder and director.

A photo of Kenyan children watching Somesha Stories inclusive education content in their school.
Kenyan children watch Somesha Stories inclusive education content in their school.

The United Nations Development Programme, which awarded the Disability Innovation Challenge, praised Somesha Stories for its innovative use of mobile technology and media to deliver inclusive education resources to children with disabilities, families, and teachers in Kenya. Maria and her team created an accessible Somesha Stories mobile app that provides users with children’s stories in English and Swahili, inclusive teaching tools for schools, public health guidance for families, and support information for family and mental health needs. PFP-IDE is currently sponsoring the app’s expansion beyond Android into new mobile operating systems, including iOS.

Two adjacent photos - one is a book illustration of children and parents boarding a bus. The image is from a Somesha children's story. The second image is the home screen of the Somesha inclusive education app.
Left: An illustration from a Somesha Story for children. Right: The main screen of the Somesha app, which provides stories for children, a Chat feature, and a platform to Ask An Expert questions about disability issues.

Somesha Stories also delivers inclusive education via a weekly television program that promotes early literacy. The program is produced by The Action Foundation and Signs TV, a media company that produces accessible programming. The Somesha Stories TV show consists of short child-focused stories about diverse subjects, including science, community, mental health, COVID-19, and inclusive values. Episodes are aired on Kenyan TV and posted on official Facebook and YouTube channels to reach an even broader audience.

Image shows the opening credits of the Somesha Stories TV show for children in Kenya.

Somesha Stories draws on a decade of Maria’s work via The Action Foundation, and uses best practices from her time as a Professional Fellow in Spring 2017, when she spent a month training at the Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. In 2021, she received a PFP-IDE Alumni Mini-Grant Award to make Somesha Stories‘ inclusive, accessible English and Swahili stories available via different mobile operating systems and virtual platforms in East Africa. The program’s alumni fund is thus supporting the initiative’s expansion.

Maria and The Action Foundation continue to expand Somesha Stories‘ reach and impact, and are helping Kenyan schools upgrade learning materials by supplying educational videos and helping them secure accessible technology and media resources for children. Her commitment promises that Somesha Stories will continue to educate and empower children with disabilities in the classroom and at home.