Fellowship would reflect plane crash victim's drive to improve global health care

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SHEFFIELD — At 24, Samya Stumo already had done a lot to disrupt the status quo in global health, those who knew her say.

But Stumo still was striving toward lofty ideals when she died in an Ethiopian Airlines jet crash in March.

Now, her family, partner and former employer are starting a campaign to fund a fellowship for other like-minded women to continue the work of bringing affordable health care to poor countries.

"She was young," said Yogesh Rajkotia, founder and CEO of ThinkWell, the global health nonprofit Stumo was working for when she died while on her way to Uganda. "And she was interested in other people who had big ideas and wanted to get them moving as well."

Stumo was among 157 people killed March 10 when their flight crashed in Ethiopia minutes after takeoff. The crash was the second in a matter of months that was attributed to software and other malfunctions on Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, prompting countries across the world to ground the model.

The Stumo family has sued Boeing and a parts manufacturer on grounds that the company took design shortcuts for a mad rush to get the plane to market and compete with an Airbus model.

At the time of the crash, Stumo was heading to Uganda to do reconnaissance for ThinkWell's operation there. The operation is part of a $20 million project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase access to affordable health care in six countries.

Rajkotia, speaking from ThinkWell's Washington headquarters, said the initiative is designed for other like-minded women who want to "create social transformation" in global health and might be too financially constrained to fully unleash and enact their ideas.

"Samya struggled financially before she came to ThinkWell," he added, noting that this is the case for many people.

The Samya Rose Stumo Memorial Initiative for Universal Quality Healthcare will provide $100,000 for a fellow for one- or two-year periods, acting as "an incubator for entrepreneurial, socially-minded, bold women."

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Rajkotia said the fellowship is looking for visionary women who, like Stumo, have ideas that will "disrupt the status quo," Rajkotia said.

After an "aggressive" fundraising campaign, Stumo's family will oversee the fellowship.

Rajkotia said he hopes to have raised enough money in three months for the first fellow to begin work in January.

ThinkWell's website said that countries preferred for projects include Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, the Philippines and Uganda.

Stumo's parents, Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo, could not be reached Tuesday.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise $80,000 for the initiative has, as of Tuesday, raised $26,000 in 21 days.

"It's a testament to the type of woman Samya was," said her partner, Mike Snavely, who met Stumo while working on a public health initiative in Peru and is helping Stumo's parents, uncle and Rajkotia with the initiative.

Snavely, a medical resident in California, said Stumo's death also hit hard because a noble career working to upend "corrupt and colonial systems of global health" had been cut short.

"She was driven by a sense of justice and equity, and was able to work proactively on a large scale and large stages," he said. "She was moving on to even larger stages and scales when she went to ThinkWell. It was an immense privilege to be brainstorming with her for years. She was trying to give voice to otherwise voiceless groups of people."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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