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Young Sierra Leonean starts US project for needy mothers

By  | 23 March 2015 at 00:42 | 2449 views

Put it down to her genes, her diversified background, her upbringing, or some combination of these. Whatever explains her inspiration, Sarah Musa is resolved to make her mark in communities where girls lag behind boys in accessing basic opportunities.

She is a student at the James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA. There she is in training to become a nurse, yet she can hardly wait to make a meaningful difference. With solid help from both her parents, Joseph and Jestina, Sarah Musa recently set up her own non-profit foundation, called Prospect in Mummy’s Tummy.

The aim of PIMT is to facilitate sustained improvement in the livelihood of girls, by primarily helping their mothers. The approach is multi-faceted, with specific areas like maternity care, infant and child health and basic education for less privileged children. The whole scheme is geared toward leveling the socio-economic field for women no matter where they live.

The current targets are her current home (The United States) and her ancestral homes (Sierra Leone and The Gambia). In principle, PIMT seeks to boost the life chances of women and children, especially girls.

About 12 months ago, Sarah faced the proverbial question “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” This was during an interview for scholarship, in her pursuit of a career in healthcare. Sarah told her interviewers that she hopes to build clinics, as a way to promote maternal and child health in needy communities. Soon after, she recounted this exchange to her parents. Reflecting, Sarah says, her mother Jestina began to urge her into taking action right away. “Why wait ten years to build a clinic, when you can start now?” So the seeds of Prospects in Mummy’s Tummy (PIMT) were sown.

In June 2014, PIMT was officially registered in the United States, as an international non-profit foundation. The organization’s slogan is ‘Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies, and Healthy Nations.’

A pilot approach, to kick start PIMT, has been the free delivery of ‘baskets of love’ to new mothers, and school supplies to children. “We do this in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, and even here (in the USA), to show our love to kids and cheer up new mums. The baskets are each colourfully wrapped, containing items like feeding bottles, blankets, towels, diapers, bibs, and other hygiene products vital in baby care.

Sarah explains: “Some of us take these things for granted, but so many people simply cannot afford them.” The PIMT strategy is to help women, especially those who are pregnant, nursing babies or raising school-age children. The hope is that the organization’s gestures of moral and material support would vicariously benefit the child, the immediate family, and ultimately the community as a whole.

PIMT International opened an office in Banjul in October 2014. It is run by a volunteer, to facilitate the program’s outreach in The Gambia. Efforts are now underway, in spite of nationwide challenges like the Ebola disease, to register the organization and establish a similar outlet in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

A pastor and family friend has been helping out there on PIMT’s behalf, informally receiving and presenting kits to Sierra Leoneans. Sarah herself is heart-broken that the Ebola problem in Sierra Leone is still keeping schools closed. She laments: “I feel bad, especially for the girls; because they are now so vulnerable to teenage pregnancy and dropping out.”

To date, PIMT has distributed 100 baby care baskets and 200 school bags (stocked with learning materials) in Sierra Leone. In the Gambia 128 baskets have been given out, with PIMT hosting a Christmas party for children last year. Some 79 baskets have been distributed in the US, with 25 more all set to go out this week. In the near future, the aim is to distribute 400 to 500 baskets and school kits to as many deserving women and children as is feasible.

As to her background, Sarah Musa was born in 1993 in Uelzen, Germany. Her mother Jestina is a Gambian who trained as a teacher in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her father Joseph Musa is a licensed professional engineer. For four years, international assignments with global agencies like Medicins sans frontiers (MSF) and the Catholic Organization for Relief and Development (CORD Aid) got Joseph working as a water and resources expert, first in Sierra Leone, and later in Great Lakes African countries like Burundi, Rwanda, and The Democratic Republic of Congo.

The family finally resettled in the United States in 2000. Jestina is now a nurse at the Cherrydale Health and Rehabilitation Centre in Arlington, Virginia. Joseph (J-Mus, to his close friends) works at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as an environmental engineer.

In April 2011, Sarah Musa was one of four junior high school students honoured for Diversity Programs, at the 10th annual American Association of University Women (AAUW) Diversity Awards ceremony in Burke, Virginia. The spotlight was in recognition of her advocacy for girls’ education. Sarah is noted to have helped set up a chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI) at West Springfield High School in Virginia, also serving as its president.

An outstanding accomplishment by Sarah and her GLI mates was their raising money to help girls at a partner school in New Delhi, India. Two years later, a book titled ‘Stand Up! 75 Young Activists who Rock the World, and How You ca too!’ featured Sarah Musa. The book was edited and introduced by John Schlimm. In it, Sarah again stood out as an advocate of girls’ education, recognized along with other “young activists who rock the world.”

Already, Sarah has some 400 hours to her credit, as a healthcare volunteer. So it is no surprise she has quite a task, balancing her school work with project operations and humanitarian commitments. To her, candid feedback like the smile of a mother as she receives a ‘baby’s first kit,’ really boost her spirits. Sarah designed the web site www.pimtinternational.org, showcasing the organization. On display are colourful photos, and the PIMT depiction of a baby seemingly set for graduation while still in the womb! One other feature of the web site is a poem titled ‘Step by Step,’ and written by Jestina Musa. It is a verse summing up the project’s approach.

Sarah gives all the credit to J-Mus and his wife Jestina, describing her parents as the real co-founders of PIMT International. Not only does the couple fund the project, Jestina usually does the shopping for gift items, while J-Mus takes care of shipping and handling. A basement space in the family’s Virginia home now serves as a temporary office, a store and a sorting area. Yet Sarah has not let this limitation weaken her resolve. “Lack of sponsorship is our biggest challenge,” she affirms, “but we have to keep going.” It is Sarah Musa’s fervent hope that “sooner or later, PIMT’s baby steps will become giant leaps.

Sarah and her parents.

Sarah on her graduation day.

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