The whole thing started with a conversation about doing something and bringing our resources together."

The palm-fringed beaches of West Africa’s Sierra Leone belie a sobering reality: one in eight women here will die during pregnancy or childbirth. The stark statistics, which UNICEF reports to be among the worst in the world, made no small imprint on Nadia Sasso ’11 (English and sociology). In 2010, Sasso and two childhood friends, all Virginia-raised daughters of Sierra Leonean immigrants, decided to make a difference.

The women founded Yehri Wi Cry (YWC), which translates to “Hear Our Cry,” in the nation’s Krio dialect. The trio vowed to raise funds to buy much-needed birthing kits for a nation riven by civil war and poverty.

“The kits include everything from start to finish that’s involved in delivering a baby – from the umbilical cord cutter to the baby’s first hat,” says Sasso, who in March was named as one of “The Next Generation of Female Leaders and Other Organizations Empowering Women” and interviewed by journalist Katie Couric. Further, YWC has secured grant funding and private donations to give new mothers “incentive packages,” which include necessities such as diapers, wipes, blankets and clothing.

“The whole thing started with a conversation about doing something and bringing our resources together,” says Sasso, who majored in English and sociology at Bucknell. “Most people think that you have to have tons of money to give back, but we were recent grads or about to graduate and we were still able to do something.”

Both her experiences at Bucknell, which she says “taught me how to speak up,” and her time with YWC have set Sasso on a path she hopes will allow her to work on behalf of the global community for years to come. She ultimately wants to forge a path as a social entrepreneur. She’s trying to find new ways to highlight challenges facing mothers-to-be in Sierra Leone. This year, Sasso organized an A.R.T. For Life fundraising campaign (Altruism Reflected Tangibly) in Los Angeles and an art auction in Washington, D.C.

“I try to find creative ways to make maternal and infant mortality relatable and interesting to people of our generation,” Sasso says.

Sasso, who is working toward a master’s degree in American studies at Lehigh University, has twice traveled to Sierra Leone, both times eliciting stunned responses from the women she was there to help. “They were just shocked, as in ‘Wow, you thought of us,’” she says. “For me, giving back is something I’m trying to implement every day.”

Posted July 2013