In the United States, and much of the developed world, we often take for granted the basic comforts we have as new mothers -- prenatal care, a clean place to give birth, access to pain medication, and acute treatment for complications. Yet for millions of women around the world, these luxuries are unknown.
Women like Jos Mattias. Jos is a 41-year-old woman from Sierra Leone who used to earn her income by working as a nanny for a family with two young children. However, Jos’ life changed when she gave birth to a child of her own. Due to inadequate maternal care, her labor was obstructed, and resulted in the debilitating condition of obstetric fistula. Because Jos could not afford the $400 required to fund a fistula repair surgery, so she was terminated from her job, ostracized from her community, and unable to earn a living and provide for her family.
Without medical support in the poorest corners of the world, pregnancy and childbirth can be life-threatening, causing women like Jos to face a struggle most of us will never have to face.
A new project called Samahope (www.samahope.org) is working to change this. By using the crowd-funding model, which allows people like you and me to donate to specific recipients with a defined funding need, Samahope aims to connect women living in extreme poverty with the urgent medical care and assistance they need.
The idea for Samahope first came when founder Leila Janah took a trip to Sierra Leone last year and met a renowned obstetrician from Texas, named Dr. Darius Maggi. “Dr. Maggi took a few months each year, as well as some of his retirement money, to travel to Sierra Leone and perform hundreds of reproductive surgeries for women that needed them,” said Janah. “It occurred to me there: what if there were many more like Dr. Maggi that could lend a hand?”
While those in need of life-changing surgeries may be half way around the world, Samahope works to close the gap, and make the donating process as simple as a few clicks. Through key partners like the West Africa Fistula Foundation, and ReSurge International, the site is able to post real patient profiles and pictures for donors to view. Donors are also sent updates via email on the patient’s surgery and progress, tracking the impact of their donation.
Why is this transparency so important? This past August, Janah returned to Sierra Leone and personally interviewed 14 patients who were undergoing fistula repair surgery. She recalls that most of these women were not scared to share their story; they knew that sharing their condition would not only give them access to the things they need, but that it could raise awareness of their condition, and ensure that other women with obstetric fistula would come forward for treatment.
Janah was inspired by friend Jessica Jackley, who is the founder of the crowd-funding site Kiva. Now an advisor to Samahope, Jackley sees the same potential of this model in the medical field. "I founded Kiva to help women around the world fund entrepreneurial ventures. Samahope applies the same crowdfunding model to help women and children afford life-saving surgeries. I'm delighted to help the Samahope team take this idea to scale."
While its first partners are focused on fistula-repairs and burn-contractures, Samahope plans to expand coverage to surgeries and conditions affecting those in the poorest areas of the world. To jumpstart its efforts, the team has launched a special fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, with an ambitious goal of $50,000. These donations will be crucial in expanding Samahope’s influence.
Janah’s vision is a refreshingly optimistic one. “While the magnitude of this problem is so great, and the amount of money spent to fix it so comparatively tiny, I believe that it will be through the combined efforts of many individuals that we will truly be able to make a difference.”
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