Women Who Rock The World: Sarah Culberson
These women have traveled to the far corners of the world. They are trailblazers and charismatic champions of change. They are courageous. And best part of all: They are all West Virginians.
Princess, Actress, Director of Service Learning at Oakwood School, Host of Behind the Words on the Africa Channel
Books she’s written: A Princess Found by Sarah Culberson and Tracy Trivas
Where is she now? Los Angeles, California
Most little girls dream of being a princess, but for Sarah Culberson, royalty was a surprise reality. When she was one year old, Sarah was adopted by Jim and Judy Culberson of Morgantown. When she turned 18, she decided to find out more about her biological parents, and with the support of her adoptive parents she hired a private investigator. Her search uncovered that her birth mother, who had worked at West Virginia University, had passed away from cancer. Her birth father, however, was living in Bumpe, Sierra Leone. If that wasn’t enough of a shock, she found out that her grandfather had been the Paramount Chief and African royalty. Sarah was a princess, a Mahaloi, the child of a Paramount Chief.
Sarah set out to meet her biological father and soon received international attention as she made her way to Africa. Her father greeted her with open arms, but there wasn’t a glittering castle awaiting her in Bumpe. Instead, she saw a country ravaged by civil war, where most of the people lived in poverty, many suffering from amputations and starvation. Buoyed by her birthright and the spirit of the people, she was determined to make a difference. She co-founded the Kposowa Foundation to raise funds to rebuild Bumpe High School, provide clean drinking water, and improve the quality of life of the people in Sierra Leone.
In addition to her nonprofit foundation work, Sarah has been an actress and dancer with Contra-Tiempo, a professional dance company. Some of her appearances include Strong Medicine, All of Us, Boston Legal, and the film American Dreamz. She is currently the director of Service Learning at Oakwood School. When she is not at the Oakwood school or acting, she travels the country interviewing award-winning African writers on her new show, Behind the Words, on the Africa Channel.
What progress have you made with the Kposowa Foundation? We’ve restored 12 classrooms and boys' and girls' dormitories, rebuilt the home economics building and dining dall, connected with The Rotary Foundation to build eight new wells to serve 12,000 people, provided textbooks and other support for teachers, and provided furnishings for a new Peace Corps teacher on campus. In January 2011, The Kposowa Foundation partnered with Oakwood School to take eight high school students to meet Bumpe High School students in Sierra Leone; it was an incredible experience.
Are there any similarities between your home state of West Virginia and your birth father’s country? In West Virginia and Sierra Leone the people are friendly and don’t hesitate to say “hello.” The connection of the people in smaller communities is special, and I feel that connection in West Virginia and in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is also filled with beautiful lush green mountains (the name Sierra Leone means Lion Mountains). Growing up in West Virginia, I always felt safe and comforted when I looked at the mountains, as if I was surrounded by loving arms. When I saw the mountains spanning Sierra Leone I felt the same safe feeling.
What’s next for you? I will continue working with the Kposowa Foundation on construction at Bumpe High School where electricity and sanitation facilities are our next priority. We would also like to find ways to help meet critical medical needs in the chiefdom and in Sierra Leone. One out of every eight mothers dies in childbirth. Sierra Leone has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. We would love to have doctors run regular clinics, as well as train others on the ground to support the health needs of the community. We would love to have funding for Bumpe High School students to attend college. College only costs around $2,000 a year for tuition, a vast difference from the United States; however, the average monthly salary is under $80 and many people can barely afford high school, let alone college.