Looking around the maternity care room at an advanced, well-developed hospital in The Gambia, senior Fatoumata Jaiteh knew things were wrong: Too many mothers and their children were packed in together, and the women didn’t have all the resources they needed for a healthy start for them and their children.
There on a two-month visit last summer with her parents to the nation she was born in, Jaiteh easily could have left the situation with just that observation. Instead, she’s doing something about it.
“I have the tools to be able to address this issue,” she said.
Upon returning to St. Thomas, Jaiteh started a nonprofit, From Mother to You, dedicated to pulling together the resources Gambian mothers need in their children’s early months of life – everything from clothing to diapers and wipes, to cleaning materials for bottles. Drawing on her knowledge developed in biology and global health majors at St. Thomas, Jaiteh had the confidence to develop an informed course of action to make an impact on a problem close to her heart.
“It’s all meshing together: my passion of wanting to help people, trying to take something that’s structured from my education, and mixing those together so it’s more performative and has the backing of evidence,” Jaiteh said. “We need some sort of [maternity care] system to raise the overall health of the nation. It works in many places and could work there, too.”
Almost all of Jaiteh’s extended family still resides in The Gambia, and she points to the Gambian values of communal care and collaboration her parents raised her with as key to sparking her desire to help make a positive impact.
“It’s an advantage to take the values from my culture, take values from American culture, and turn those into something great,” she said.
Jaiteh started completely from scratch in developing her nonprofit’s structure and goals – “Google was my best friend throughout the process,” she joked. As her efforts have solidified into action and drawn support from the St. Thomas and the local Gambian community, Jaiteh was featured in April in a student documentary as part of the Changemaker Film Festival.
“She truly is an amazing student and developing changemaker,” said Cynthia Sarver, assistant director of St. Thomas Social Innovation Collaboratory. “She is compelled by compassion and a commitment to helping create solutions.”
Faiteh has returned to the Gambia for seven weeks this summer to work at the same hospital and bring everything donated to From Mother to You in the past year. With an eye toward a master’s degree in public health or contributing to the United Nations after graduating next year, there’s little doubt Faiteh will continue to help improve lives around the world.
“She has accomplished so much in so little time and is tirelessly devoted to this cause,” Sarver said. “I am excited to follow her evolving path, through St. Thomas and beyond. Like many Ashoka Fellows, she is someone who is marked by her passion to lead young.”