Donald Otondi takes American immigrant’s journey to seat on Pelham village board

Village of Pelham Trustee Donald Otondi

While taking college-level technology classes in Nairobi, Kenya, Donald Otondi learned about computers without ever being in the presence of an actual computer. His well educated father urged him to apply to colleges outside of Africa, and Otondi took the opportunity to attend the University of Nebraska on an academic scholarship. Otondi recalled Nebraska and its weather as being out of his comfort zone, but the experience ended up opening many doors for him in the United States.

“The America I had watched in movies was not the America I landed in, in Nebraska,” said Otondi.

Otondi moved with his wife and kids from Omaha to Pelham fourteen years ago, he said. He currently works as a senior project manager at Montefiore Medical Center. Otondi, born and raised in Kenya, is bringing his experiences that span continents to the Village of Pelham Board of Trustees, on which he became the only newcomer this month after the Democratic slate ran unopposed in November,

At Montefiore, Otondi works with multiple teams on big projects and gets everyone in sync. He said he believes these characteristics of his job will help him on the village board.

“I’m running as an open slate, and I am hoping to understand the issues in Pelham,” said Otondi. “And since I have moved to Pelham, it has become really diverse. So I am hoping to bring out diversity in terms of thought and action.”

His third job is helping his mother run a primary school in Homa Bay, Kenya. The school enrolls almost 180 students who are orphans or from indigent families. The school started taking just Kindergartners, but has now grown to add classes through the eighth grade. At times being in America but working on projects for the school can be tough, but over the summer Otondi said he went back with his son to add a computer lab and help teach classes.

“It has been really fulfilling when you go there and see how kids are happy,” he said. “We know we are helping someone in some form or fashion and the idea is we are helping them so they turn around to help others.”

Otondi uses his personal experiences to show how life saving education can be for underprivileged children. Otondi’s father grew up in Homa Bay, and ended up attending Harvard University, helping lead his family’s path to higher education.

“It’s the ability for these kids to dream, to be a doctor, a lawyer, to be somebody,” said Otondi.

Otondi has high hopes for Pelham when it comes to diversity and realizing the importance of giving to your community. “You can always contribute on some level,” he said. “When you look back, you can say I lived in Pelham, but I made a mark, and I not only benefited myself and my family, but everyone else.”