Every practicing Muslim is governed by the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’; Shahada (الشهادة‎‎) – the declaration of faith, Salat (صلاة‎) – prayer, Zakat (زكاة‎‎) – obligatory charity, Sawm (صوم) – fasting during the month of Ramadan (رمضان) and Hajj (حج) – pilgrimage to holy sites in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

 

Mrs. Zaria Adhiambo Omwayi is the byword of Islamic themes in acts of charity. She is the co-founder & current Executive Director of Villa Teag Children’s Home in Dandora slums, Nairobi. In 2003, Zaria together with her late professional comrade Raymond Mugabe Were embarked on an ardent journey to provide residential care to close to 100 children. After the tragic demise of Raymond in 2008, Zaria resolved to continue with the work despite the grief, a rough transition & falling out of donors & partners acquired through the late Raymond.

13 years later, Zaria has managed to beef up her philanthropic efforts and is supporting 55 more children (30 residential & 25 in the outreach program) by offering holistic care, quality time & material needs. Contrary to popular belief, she is not a booming tycoon seeking to ‘clean blood money’ or simply looking to fulfill a religious obligation. Her genuine concern is evident in her conduct and relentless sacrifice. Like every great leader, Zaria works in a team. The management board of Villa Teag is made up of 4 women (3 Muslim, 1 Christian). Her staff team is also a rich blend with Shamima Omwayi heading the Administration & Finance department, 2 social workers, 2 cooks, 1 matron & 1 patron all on payroll. Her husband, Mr. Omar Omwayi together with their children (Bruke, Shamir, Malika, Shamima, Shamila & Zena) have also served as a backbone to the Villa Teag body through monetary giving, service & emotional support.

The backstory of the current permanent residence of Villa Teag is also through the generous support of Hatice Sahin (best known as Khadija) who bought them the home. This is after previously having the children hosted for 4 years at a donated home by Madam Alice. These connections are not as stand-alone occurrences. Hatice was a connect through Kenya Muslim Charitable Society.

Currently, the main financial muscle of the home is by Zaria & her family. Lift the Children ( https://www.liftthechildren.org/) is also involved in giving a portion of the monthly monetary resource necessary for the upkeep of the children. Other organizations that have supported this vision in-kind are Admin’s Group, the Kenyan Government, Uchumi Supermarket & the Catholic Church in Dandora.

Typical to patriarchal mindsets in many African societies, Zaria says that she has faced sexist & religious biases in relation to her work. “As a Muslim woman running my own organization, I face a lot of discrimination. This is especially when I go to Islamic institutions to ask for help. They always doubt my ability to own the organization.” In regards to adherence to the government regulations, Zaria continues to share that, “I have felt a lot of pressure from the government when it came to registration & maintaining the legal status of Villa Taeg. Select government officials felt like I was too inferior to run the organization & had questions that would not have been raised if I was not a Muslim woman.”

With the Covid-19 social distancing government directives, Zaria facilitated the move of half of the residential children to another family-owned safe house in order to protect their well-being. Regardless of the bumpy seasons, Zaria is determined to see the cause flourish. Her affirmative words as we spoke were, “Being a woman in leadership has been challenging. However, I am determined to rise above all the odds & show that Muslim women can also lead and not only lead, but lead others in a dignified manner”. To hold the belief that Islamic women are always in a ‘need-to-be-rescued’ state distorts our perception of viewing them rightfully as active contributors to the Philanthropy space.

Her journey provokes us to move away from tokenism to sustainable engagement that works beyond feel-good actions that pacify our conscience. Dream with me a while: what if you and I, like Zaria dared to trail blaze African Philanthropic initiatives during a tough economic time? What if, together, we work to support Muslim women break through the limiting beliefs cultivated by society? What if as citizens aware of the needs of those around us zero in on the action? These questions stare at us in the face amidst the Covid-19 pandemic & will continue to nudge us post-pandemic.

By Karen Kilwake