AUCD Professional Fellows Alum Wins United Nations Award for Inclusive Education TV Show

April 16, 2021

AUCD Professional Fellows alumna Maria Omare from Nairobi, Kenya, has won a grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for her work on Somesha Stories, a TV series she created that delivers accessible and inclusive educational content to children in East Africa. Somesha Stories is a weekly program that promotes early literacy and is one of the first children's TV series in East Africa to use closed captioning and sign language in all episodes. The series uses interactive storytelling to foster inclusive values and educate children about diverse topics, including science, community, mental health, COVID-19, and interacting with peers.

Maria is the founder and director of The Action Foundation Kenya, which supports disability inclusion in East Africa. In 2017, she took part in AUCD's Professional Fellows Program, an international exchange program that promotes inclusive education and employment partnerships between AUCD network members in the U.S. and disability leaders in East Africa. Maria's work, including the Somesha Stories TV series, draws on inclusive education best practices that she observed at the Massachusetts UCEDD, where she spent a month training and developing a project for her home country.

The Somesha Stories TV series began as a spinoff of Maria's existing work. For more than a decade, she and her team have personally delivered education trainings, stories, and learning materials to households and schools in poor communities, but COVID-19 forced them to adapt their approach. By creating a weekly TV series, Maria can share inclusive stories and promote early literacy to a broader audience in Kenya despite school closures and quarantine.

Somesha Stories episodes are short segments that focus on specific subjects and place children at the center of stories. The program uses a mixture of adult actors, children, and puppets to act out stories and have on-camera discussions in each episode, which are accompanied by sign language and closed captioning. As they are aired on TV, episodes are also posted on official Facebook and YouTube channels to reach an even broader audience.

In addition to the United Nations, several other organizations have announced awards for Somesha Stories TV. Most recently, the Swedish government awarded a grant for Maria and Kenya's Ministry of Education to introduce TVs and digital learning devices into schools so that teachers can show Somesha Stories episodes to their students and teach inclusive lessons in the classroom. Maria has also received an award from AUCD's Professional Fellows Alumni Engagement Fund, which she will use to make multilingual inclusive stories for children with disabilities available on mobile apps and other virtual platforms in East Africa.