Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Kenyan surgeon hosts a gala fundraiser in Louisiana

Dr. Sophia Omoro,Many know of the hardships that face the people of Kenya, and the generous residents who live in St. Tammany Parish will have a chance to help those in need in that land, as well as their own. On Saturday, Nov. 15, Dr. Sophia Omoro, a native of Kenya and a Covington-based head and neck surgeon (otalaryngologist), will connect her two worlds with The Blooming Lily Fundraising Gala.

The gala will take place on Saturday at the Maritime Museum in Madisonville. Tickets are $75. The evening will feature food, drink, live music, a silent auction and an interactive guest experience. There are only 250 tickets available, and every ticket automatically has a chance to win $1,000 cash the night of the event.

The funds raised will help connect St. Tammany Parish and Kenya by supporting projects, including providing clean drinking water to families, giving books and Christmas presents to orphanages, providing snacks and drinks for a children’s AIDS clinic, enabling women‐run Kenyan businesss, and supporting thyroid cancer support groups right here in St. Tammany.

“I would like people to know that this event will be like no other fundraiser; it will be a very interactive night of learning, sharing, internationally connecting, and socializing with great food and music, all while making very small sacrifices, which will exponentially add up to a huge difference in the lives of the giver and receiver,” said Dr. Omoro. “We even have a Kenyan delegate coming all the way in for a special presentation. One hundred percent of all donations will go to the intended cause, and this cause will be personally picked by the donor.”

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This is the first gala from a relatively new foundation that Dr. Omoro created to help those in need, and she hopes it will become an annual event

“This comes after a very long journey to this point,” Dr. Omoro said. “I am sure that most people are aware of the federal regulations and IRS process governing the set up, as well as qualifications for a 501c3 nonprofit. This part alone has taken the better part of 18 months. However, my dream of a foundation has budded from childhood.”

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Dr. Omoro said she knew as early as 12 years old that her destiny was to create a foundation to address some of the needs in the society around her. “I cannot remember a time in my life when this was never an active goal,” Dr. Omoro said.  “Blooming Lily is named after my sister, Lily, who lost her life at age 46 to untreated colon cancer in the midst of domestic abuse and untreated depression.  Her passing helped me formulate the foundation’s goals, as I believe that there is an aspect that Lily represents in all of us.”

The Blooming Lily’s mission statement is, “to empower women to lead, positively fulfill their destiny and give back.”

Dr. Omoro added: “We aim to empower women and children (and men too) to succeed and overcome physical and mental health barriers, economic strife, and thus, fulfill their destiny, but ultimately give back. I feel that I am optimally placed (and obligated) to connect people globally so we can make a positive difference in our own lives, and someone else’s.”

Dr. Omoro won a scholarship to study in the United States, and after Hurricane Katrina, she settled in Covington. She works at Ochsner in Covington and also heads some cancer support groups in Covington. Her journey to this point has been both laborious and enlightening.

“I was born in Kenya to a family of eight. Relatively poor, my father pushed education with no exception, as the only way upward.  He insisted that a “B” grade was never good enough,” she said. “Subsequently, I was able to perform quite well in school. I was fortunate, after high school to be awarded the only scholarship that year to the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, one of the seven United World colleges.

“At age 16, off I was, first time ever on a plane, let alone a multi-leg international trip.  I remember every terrifying moment of this, as though it was yesterday. But I made it across the world, and after that, I was fearless. My journey led from Vancouver, British Columbia, after completing my International Baccalaureate, to Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to Tulane, where I studied for my M.D. and Ph.D degrees. I started my residency in otolaryngology in Seattle and finished back at Tulane, thanks to Katrina (yes, I came back). Thereafter, I settled where I feel most at home other than Kenya.”

Still, she has never forgotten her country or her people.  “I made frequent runs back home every chance I got,” she said. “With 75 percent living way below poverty level, it was quite obvious to me that I was given a way out of this so I can lift someone else up a rang or two, without much effort.

“In a country where a single person supports households, it is not hard to make a difference and exponentially touch people you may never meet. But people are the same everywhere, whether here, or in Kenya. There is always a need, some of which you may not see very obviously. One just needs to look.”

In addition to practicing medicine, forming support groups and nonprofit foundations, and planning fundraising events, Dr. Omoro has also realized another lifelong dream of having a fashion label. This, too, she does to help the community.

“I opened the shop on August 16th, after a first runway/trunk show here in Mandeville on April 12, followed by a trunk show in New Orleans. The brand was very well received,” said Dr. Omoro, “The odAOMO label has an admirable philanthropic side. I design and personally oversee the execution of each and every piece, all of which are proudly made in Kenya.

“Despite the challenges and overall cost of the venture, I am committed to improving a life by offering employment.”

Even in its early stage, the label has given work and income to people on her team, such as George, the team leader, who has been able to provide food, education and shelter for his immediate family, as well as his less fortunate siblings and extended family members. George dreams about building a church in his village someday soon, she said.

“Every garment, every belt, every bag, every accessory sold furthers the label’s commitment to improving lives by ensuring fair, competitive and steady wages to a key provider and bread winner in this impoverished country,” Dr. Omoro said. “This is our core value and makes it all worth it!”

Her support groups in St. Tammany help those dealing with cancer connect with others and also helps with the cancer diagnosis and aftermath.

“One of the common cancers that come my way is thyroid cancer. This affects more women than men. I have found that even after we have completed the surgical and medical treatment, and we tell our patients that they are cancer free, they are left with, as one of my patients put it, ‘a loss of naivete,'” she said. “This realization usually leaves these patients with the challenge of going on, while still being a mother, a sister, a wife, a professional. This can be overwhelming. We started a support group to bring together people who were mostly going through this alone. Together, this group has supported each other, and now is on their ‘give back’ project here in St. Tammany Parish. We look to follow this model with other support groups in the next year.”

With help from funds raised at the gala and donations, some of the projects Dr. Omoro and Blooming Lily are looking to complete this year are to sponsor and support the thyroid cancer support group in St. Tammany and to support their “give back” project of printing the first patient-written handbook for newly- diagnosed patients; hold a first annual health fair at Kochia Village, Kenya, in December; and support the Kendu women’s self-help group by helping them launch a clothing kiosk.

“It brings tears to my eyes every time I think of four beautiful, strong women who have embraced my vision: Cackey Haun, Courtney Elmer, Paula Fontana and Rayna Black. They are my board members with the kindest of hearts and such lion-like determination. Their passion to help others is truly humbling. I could not do this without them,” said Dr. Omoro.

For more information, purchase tickets or donate, co********************@gm***.com, or om*********@ya***.com.

“We are just under two weeks to the event, with limited number of tickets, and we would love to have a final head count at least a week before the event,” said Dr. Omoro. “We kindly request purchases by Saturday Nov. 8, or at the very least an RSVP to purchase tickets on the night of the event at the door.”

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