In 2011, Tiangay, a 16-year-old girl from Sierra Leone, was brutally raped by her high-school teacher. She received traditional care for the damage she suffered, but soon became dehydrated, weak from blood loss, and nearly unable to walk. Seeking treatment at West Africa Fistula Foundation (WAFF), she underwent a fistula-repair surgery via donations from Samahope, a crowd-funding website for surgeries. “You saved my life,” she told her doctor, WAFF’s founder Darius Maggi, as she prepared to return to her goal of attending nursing school.
Samahope, which officially launched in October, is bringing the increasingly popular method of crowd-sourced donations into the medical realm. And on Monday, the organization is pushing into your social-media feed with #HonorYourMom, a virtual Mother’s Day campaign for donors to pledge funding for various surgeries in developing countries as tribute to their moms. Write about why you love your mom, upload a photo of you two, pick an amount (ranging from $5 to $500), and give another mom thousands of miles away the gift of a safe birth.
Depending on your donation, you’ll be providing this mother with comprehensive prenatal care, a birth kit, and an attendant. In costlier cases, the woman must travel for days to the medical center, arrive malnourished, and, in the worst situation, may require an obstetric or vaginal fistula surgery. In return, your mom gets a card with your picture and note. It’s definitely cooler than a bouquet of roses.
Participatory crowd-funding for philanthropy on sites like Kiva, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo has shown increasing effectiveness. It’s a simple concept, one that’s been wildly successful for crowd-source pioneering site Kiva, which has distributed more than $400 million in microloans: pick who your money goes to, choose the amount, and stay abreast of the recipient’s progress. Unlike Kiva, Samahope works with donations, not loans. Donors can view profiles of patients and fund specific surgeries and treatments. “That’s the model of the site: to be able to tell the stories of these people who are seeking to be able to pull themselves out of their current situation and they can’t get the medical attention they need,” says Executive Director Shivani Garg Patel. The money is funneled through four fully vetted partner organizations working on the ground to carry out medical treatments.
“I realized surgeons like Dr. Maggi shouldn’t be fundraising, they should be doing surgeries,” says Samahope’s founder, Leila Janah, of her inspiration for launching the organization. On a trip to Sierra Leone in 2011, when she met the WAFF doctor, 30-year-old Janah realized the need for getting monetary support to already established charities. “If we could provide a channel of funds into effective organizations that are performing these services, we could dramatically reduce the incidence of a lot of these conditions,” she says.
In the true spirit of crowd-sourced funding, she launched Samahope with an Indiegogo campaign that ended up raising more than $50,000 for the fledgling organization. Janah, a highly regarded social entrepreneur, is also the founder and CEO of Samasource, which connects poor women and youth with “microwork” opportunities routed from Silicon Valley.
The current #HonorYourMom campaign already has the pledged support of 35 benefactors, according to Patel. She hopes the social-media component—after donating you’re prompted to encourage your friends to do likewise and you receive a personalized page—will give a boost to the campaign and awareness of the organization.
Samahope’s goals are lofty: Patel says the aim is to reach 1 million patients, which she thinks they can achieve in the next five to 10 years. So far, they’re $70,000 into this goal, but donations have been picking up speed rapidly. “I want it to be as big as Kiva one day, or bigger,” Janah says.
On a recent site visit to Nepal, Patel remembers meeting a young patient named Bishal, a 2-year-old Nepalese boy who was so cold he crawled into his family’s fire and suffered serious burn wounds on his face. He wasn’t a Samahope recipient—yet—but in solidifying future partnerships with organizations in the area, the group hopes to expand its scope and make medical treatments possible where the funding might not have been available before. “The reality is there are patients like this every day and these are the lucky ones,” she says.