Yanoh Jalloh: Fixing severe disparities and health inequities in Sierra Leone

From developing reproductive health programs for young girls in Kabala Sierra Leone, to managing high level projects funded by the center for Disease Control.

Yanoh Jalloh is well equipped to provide high quality research, programmatic and training expertise to organisations focused on health and development in African countries and the United States.

Born to Sierra Leonean parents in the United States, Yanoh’s passion to contributing to healthy sustainable societies by providing evidence based research driven programs, tools and resources has always been evident.

Over the last decade, she has garnered the necessary experience from working with local and international Non-Governmental organisations in Africa, to high level university research institutes in the United States. 

In this  interview, Yanoh Jalloh shares her career journey with young women in Sierra Leone, and her hopes to inspire and encourage them along their own journeys.

Women interested in public health - do not get into this industry for the money. It is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling - @YKayJ Click To Tweet 

Describe yourself in one sentence?

I am a motivated, skilled and experienced international development specialist with close to a decade of’ experience of working with hard to reach populations of youth and on projects in Sierra Leone.

What motivates you to develop healthier societies in Africa?

Though I was born in the states, my family is originally from Sierra Leone and I have always felt a compelling call to respond to the severe disparities and health inequities in Sub- Saharan Africa.

Tell us about your public health background and how it relates to your Sierra Leonean heritage?

I obtained my Masters’ in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health in 2012, in 2011 during my practicum experience, I started working on the ground in Sierra Leone with the NGO Helen Keller International.

It was during this experience that I was able to hone in on my research and evaluation skills as I worked on a project which aimed to redesign the national child health card.

I also evaluated a multi-faceted nutrition intervention that was being implemented in several clinics throughout Freetown, Sierra Leone. Since then, I have been working both domestically on abroad on both short-term and long-term projects that mainly aim to improve health outcomes.

I have also worked with organisations in providing evaluation support and planning.

What are some career challenges you face?

I am in my early 30’s but I started working in this field in my mid 20’s. Age has often been a barrier and a challenge.

When you are young, you often lose opportunities to candidates who may have more years of experience, but are not necessarily as seasoned as you in a particular skill. I am also told I look a bit younger than I am, so this has also been a barrier.

Trying to balance a family and a young daughter has been so fulfilling but has also been a challenge. I have had to turn down opportunities as it conflicted with my family life, though I do not regret it, other opportunities that were more appropriate came along.

What are 3 things you have achieved in your field that you are proud of?

  1. Designing, leading, and teaching the first online Health Policy Course to MPH students at the College of Medical and Allied Health Sciences in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
  2. Developing health and sanitation courses for 300 youth in Kabala, Sierra Leone
  3. Leading alongside my amazing colleagues an adult immunisation campaign across New York City, during this campaign we partnered with 100 organisations and educated the providers about the importance of adult vaccines.

What advise can you provide to other women who want to go into health consultancy?

You will receive a lot of no’s before you receive a yes.

I would also advise to be very flexible, early on I had to take on unpaid or very low paying opportunities to build my portfolio, you must use these opportunities to advance your experience and to build contacts as well as to network.

Finally, do not get in this field for the money, it is a field that can be riveting, emotional, draining, but very fulfilling, you must get in this field because you want to see change.

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Nadia Sasso is the co-founder of Yehri Wi Cry (YWC), an organization that distributes birthing kits in Sierra Leone to increase the successful delivery rates for women. She is also a branding & social impact strategist for Royal Dynamite.

Born in America to parents who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Sasso is a leader in establishing social and entrepreneurial connections across cultures and fostering civic responsibility.

For Nadia Sasso, the connection to the African Diaspora has always been strong.

She has a dual Bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology from Bucknell University where she was a Posse scholar. She also bagged a Master’s degree in American Studies with a certification in Documentary Film from Lehigh University, as well as a Master’s degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University.

Nadia Sasso is also currently pursuing a PhD in Africana Studies with a minor in Film Studies from Cornell University, and has been named as being amongst the “Next Generation of Female Leaders,”.

Her recent film Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African? has been featured in media platforms, such as Centric, Jet, The Huffington Post, Blavity, The ColorLines, OkayAfrica, Black Enterprise, AfroPunk etc, and has been recognized by film festivals nationally and internationally.

She is also working on a new age docu-series about Afro millennials in Washington D.C., starting a creative collective and unpacking culture, race, and heritage for their generation.  

Through both film projects, she is changing the conversation on what it means to be African and American in America and on the continent via the digital landscape. 

Nadia has received much recognition and awards for her commitment to social responsibility and inspiring others to help make an impact in their communities. In this article, she talks about her love for storytelling and social work. 

We need to create stories for us and by us and not necessarily as an explanation to people - @iAmNadiaMarie Click To Tweet

What attracted you fostering civic responsibility?

I am American-born but my parents are natives of Sierra Leone.  They taught me to live by the following credo: ‘We cannot own what is out of our control; what we can own, is that which exists to be a part of the solution.’

My parents taught me to focus on what truly inspires me, on issues that captivate my attention and on challenges that evoke my abiding sense of social justice.

One important consequence of my family’s teachings has been that my achievements are most meaningful to me when I am socially responsible and when I am being the change I want to see in the world. For as long as I can remember I have been deeply invested and interested in media as a storytelling tool to engage and inspire audiences.

My educational and professional experiences have provided me with a strong foundation in the fundamental aspects of media and the role that media can play in my work.

How has this change affected your life story in terms of impacting the new generation of female leaders in Africa?

I would have to say being honest about my journey; the struggles and the privileges in the African diaspora. It has led me to work hard to be as transparent as possible.

Lastly, I make it a point to look back to not only give back but to continue learning as well.

How can we as Africans in the continent and diaspora change the lens by which we are viewed across the world?

We can change the lenses in which we are viewed by controlling the narrative. We need to create stories for us and by us and not necessarily as an explanation to the other(s).

Telling our stories can come in various formats, which can include text, photography, video, audio, graphic illustrations, and/or social media.

These storytelling tools are powerful resources as we seek to expand our knowledge of pressing transnational issues and build ties across cultures.

The wide variety of new digital media tools and platforms has created an unprecedented opportunity for people from all disciplines and backgrounds to share observations and personal narratives with global audiences.

As a brand strategist, what are the three key MUST HAVE ingredients for every entrepreneur?

  • Consistency/ Repetition: Make sure that you are always working hard at what you do but that you do it on a regular basis.
  • Quality: Always going the extra mile and make sure your work is above standards and expectations.
  • Collaboration: There is no “I” in a team. There are so many benefits of working with others in the form of collaboration that includes but are not limited to reaching new audiences, information exchange, and creativity.

If you had a chance to select any program or brand/company for a collaboration in Africa, who would you choose and why?

I would choose Maki OH. She is someone whom I have admired for a long time, and she utilizes her culture and daily experiences to create.

Also, she does it with a lens that is purely hers and doesn’t care to include western commentary. She is a rebel with a cause does it with so much confidence.

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