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Leila Chirayath Janah Headshot

Celebrating a 30th Birthday by Saving Lives

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Leila Janah

This week I turned 30.

While this milestone feels significant, I am concentrating on a different number. Today, 800 women will die from preventable causes related to childbirth. Many of these women are my age, some younger, some older, and many of them share the same dream: to someday have a healthy, loving family. Yet because they live in the poorest corners of the earth, with either limited or no access to doctors, medicine and health facilities, they face a struggle that I will never have to face.

I don't have children yet. But several weeks ago, I got engaged to a man I love and started thinking about our future. I'm shocked that the basic comforts I will have as a mother, procedures that modern medicine considers routine-- prenatal care, a clean place to give birth, access to pain medication, and acute treatment for complications--are unknown in many parts of the world. Childbirth should be a time of simple happiness for a mother, but for millions of women, pregnancy and childbirth are life-threatening.

Today, my inspiration is a new project called Samahope, which offers people like you and me the opportunity to reach out to those poor corners of the globe and provide women and children with life-changing surgeries. Using the crowdfunding model, a well-established outreach approach that allows donors to contribute to specific recipients with a defined funding need, Samahope connects women living in extreme poverty with the urgent medical care and assistance they need.

The idea for Samahope first came when I was traveling in Sierra Leone last year and met a doctor named Dr. Darius Maggi. A renowned obstetrician and gynecologist from Texas, 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. It occurred to me: what if there were many more like Dr. Maggi around the world that could lend a hand?

Today I am dedicating the anniversary of my birth to the hundreds of thousands of women giving life around the world. Samahope has launched a special fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, with an ambitious goal of $50,000. These donations are crucial in jumpstarting Samahope's influence around the world. Samahope's first partners are focused on fistula-repairs and burn-contractures, with plans to expand coverage to surgeries and conditions affecting those in the poorest areas of the world.

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Me with patients at the West Africa Fistula Foundation in Bo, Sierra Leone, August 2012.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/samahope.