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Maame’s Story: Making Connections Through a Pandemic

November 16/2020

By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer

The pandemic has not stopped Maame De-Heer.

The DLSPH student switched gears this Spring and began exploring ways to get involved in issues she cares about online.

De-Heer was recently selected as a delegate to RBC’s Future Launch’s Fast Forward 2020 – Youth Summit – one of 120 young Canadians out of 1,000 who applied for the summit. Delegates meet other young people across the country to discuss and connect on solutions for Canada.

Recently, she was asked to speak at the panel “Prescribing Equity: Unpacking Racial Health Disparities for BIPOC communities” with scholars she admired – Camille Orridge, Lee Maracle and DLSPH Prof. Roberta Timothy.

“When I got the call to speak and then I saw the event flyer, I nearly cried,” says De-Heer. “’I’m on a panel with the Roberta Timothy. I was grateful and that’s how I realized that putting myself out there has benefited me.”

A photo of Maame De-Heer infront of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health building

Maame De-Heer
Photo credit: Mike Tamakloe, MStar Photography

After graduation, De-Heer is hoping to revamp her family’s 17-year-old orphanage in Ghana. She is also starting her own organization called The Power of Love Foundation Canada – a grassroots approach to improving the wellbeing of Black people in Canada. She secured funding from the City of Toronto for the organizations’ Single Mothers Project to aid single Ghanaian mothers in Etobicoke who need support during COVID-19.

That’s just a handful things on De-Heer’s plate. Now, much like the cohort in June, she’s graduating in front of a screen with her Master of Public Health in Social and Behavioural Health Science with a dual collaboration in Global Health and Health Services and Policy Research.

The Ghanaian-born student moved to Canada when she was 13 years old. A public health internship at the Tema General Hospital in her motherland sparked a desire to bridge the health gap for marginalized and underserved communities.

“Public health is a very broad concept and sometimes when you actually go to the Global South, you can see the effect of the lack of public health implementation and surveillance in action,” she says. “When I saw the lack of public health technology and the lack of tools that can improve the lives of people, I knew that this was it. This is what I need to do.”

At U of T, De-Heer was determined to be as involved as she could. She was a cohort representative in her first year. She served as the financial officer for the Black Graduate Students Association. She a School of Graduate Studies’ three-minute Thesis Competition finalist. She was also an ACORN Advisory Team Member helping UX designers on how to make timetables easier for students to use. And that’s only a sliver of her activities in the past two years.

“I was at U of T. I did not want to do this program and go to this school without taking advantage of resources they had,” says De-Heer. “My plan was to engage in a lot of things as much as my strength and capacity would allow me.”

When the lockdown began, she turned to LinkedIn to extend her network. It took a lot out of her – De-Heer says she had to build the strength to foster these online connections and share her successes with the world. But the effort opened doors.

She utilized the lockdown to her advantage and the resources that are out there, just as she did pre-pandemic. In the same way, people post their food on Instagram, De-Heer shares her achievements online. “I keep it professional and move along.”

“Finishing an MPH degree is incredibly advantageous,” adds De-Heer. “A lot of people need your knowledge and want you to share it with them. Never be scared to put yourself out there and share what you have done. It might be the steppingstone for your progress.”