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Umra Omar, Founder of Safari Doctors

Published on 01/21/2019

What is your life’s purpose?
To serve as the bridge that connects people, opportunities, and ideas to improve the standards of humanity in this journey called life.

How are you living your purpose?
On January 21st, 2016 at 3am, I walked out of my house carrying a mattress and a backpack with a few of my belongings. The journey had begun, the first Safari Doctors sail, along Kenya’s Lamu Archipelago. I sent my then one-year old son to my parents as our team of nurses and doctors set off to open clinics across several villages over a couple of days. Since that day, there is nowhere else that I would rather be and nothing else that I would rather do than be on a dhow, sailing into hope and the possibility of bringing a better tomorrow to those who need it most.

Volunteer medic with a baby girl

Safari Doctors’ mission is to provide innovative, community-driven healthcare solutions that promote well-being for marginalized communities in Lamu County. The indigenous Aweer and Bajuni communities we serve live within the archipelago and on the mainland near the border with Somalia. Neglect and insecurity continue to impede their right to access healthcare.

So, every month, the team sets sail in a boat loaded with medicines and conducts mobile clinics across at least 11 villages. Together with regular outreach work, the team reaches up to 800 patients a month. In these communities, we are working to increase child immunizations, tackle communicable diseases, tag chronic conditions, ensure pregnant women and mothers receive the care they need and enable those who want it, to access family planning.

Safari Doctors also operates a youth Health Ambassadors program, engaging young men and women who receive basic health education and training, to facilitate our work and become agents of positive change in their communities.

As part of our holistic approach to community health, our Safari Vet cares for hundreds of animals. During our outreach work, we provide veterinary services and carry out community awareness sessions on animal health and welfare.

Safari Vet

A major highlight for our team was in 2017, when the United Nations in Kenya awarded us the UN Person of the Year award “for the outstanding efforts and commendable work providing medical care to marginalized communities in the far-reaching areas of Lamu.”

Two years after launching Safari Doctors, and two children deep, in my opinion, there is nothing more active in this world than being a mother. In my world, I am a mother to Azza and Bwana and also Mama Safari Doctors. There is saying that goes, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I live my purpose by asking myself daily how I give back to my world today, in any way. I feel blessed by the universe, so how can I make others be a part of this blessing? Whether it is a conversation about school with the little child along my walk to work, the baby donkey that could use a banana treat, or a simple high five to commend the work of my colleague. What might seem like a small gesture is actually part and parcel of the butterfly effect to purposefulness.

How did you find your purpose?
I did not find my purpose; my purpose found me. This might sound a little cliché, but it is as true as daylight. I had a materialistically fulfilling job, travelling the world and wearing the latest trends (including my Aerosoles shoe addiction), but a little voice in my head kept on saying, “then what for?” I chose to make room in my life by quitting what was not professionally and personally fulfilling. I opted to jump off the cliff with the hope that I might have the wings to fly to greater purpose.

My purpose found me when I let go. I let go of the job that did not feel resolute. I let go of the relationship that was not going anywhere. Instead, I travelled to new places, met new people, and read random stuff. I proclaimed to the universe, “here I am.”  In that process, I got to meet a timeless man who is now my husband, I joined the motherhood club, and I had a random conversation that led to the discovery of a healthcare void in my community—and the birth of Safari Doctors.

The team walks to the next clinic on Pate island

What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
It is sort of like finding love; there is nothing like that really. What you can do is to first trust and love yourself, and then be actively open to loving and being loved. If there were such a thing as finding love, then many of us would just go to a tree, pluck and munch away. The same applies to finding your purpose. First, be purposeful in your very simple ways and let that be the blueprint of growth and partnerships. It has to be what you enjoy doing plus “then what for.” Whether it’s painting to mentor youth at risk or sharing your passion of sports to overcome depression and conflict, name your passion and make it purposeful.

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.

Mothers wait to be seen by the doctor in Kiangwe

What resources do you recommend?
The biggest resource that I recommend is the community around you—be it family, local, or global. Listen and let your passion fuel a purposeful engagement in making a difference.

CNN Heroes is an extra-ordinary platform of learning from ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

One can never go wrong with Nelson Mandela quotes, such as these:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Umra Omar onboard a Medical Sail in 2017

Connect with Umra Omar
Founder and Executive Director, Safari Doctors
Email: uomar@safaridoctors.org
Facebook Page

Umra Omar holds a Masters in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations from the School for International Training in Vermont and an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and Psychology from Oberlin College in Ohio. Ms. Omar has been awarded the top 10 CNN Heroes Award of 2016, United Nations in Kenya Person of the Year 2017, African Leaders for Change Award as a Good Samaritan 2017, and Kenya’s Top 40 under 40 2017, for her initiative with Safari Doctors.


HeleneTStelian Musing
I’m Hélène Stelian, the Midlife Mentor with a passion for facilitating personal development in women 40+. Through my THRIVE Courses, I help introspective, curious, action-oriented women 40+ deepen their journeys of self-discovery and growth—and create their next chapter with courage and intention.



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  1. Colleen Johnson

    To know her is to love her❤

    • Hélène Stelian

      Thanks for reading Colleen! Umra is amazing!

  2. Anna Mwalagho

    Umra is such an inspiration and she speaks from the heart.


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