Nanah Fofanah: making life better for women and girls

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“My practice is sexual and reproductive health, and my passion is empowerment,” said USF College of Public Health graduate Nanah Fofanah.

Born in Sierra Leone and growing up in Virginia, Fofanah’s views of the world have been shaped by her upbringing, faith and experiences. From her experience living in Sierra Leone, as well as Ghana, where she lived for a few years before high school, she’s witnessed the gender stereotypes that are still the norm there today.

“I’ve always liked a challenge and have been a ‘tomboy,’ so if you tell me I can’t do something, especially because I’m a girl, I make sure to get it done and do it well,” she said.

Now, the goal is to share her own education and confidence with those in need.

Fofanah kayaking

Nanah Fofanah kayaking at the College of Public Health annual barbecue. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Kent)

“I wanted to be able to help women, specifically, and of course, communities as a whole,” she said.

And with her MPH degree, she’s well on her way.

“Education was always something my dad pushed upon us,” she said, explaining that secondary education is a given in her family. “The one thing you’re going to die with, the one thing that nobody can take away from you no matter what happens, is knowledge.”

USF drew Fofanah in with its world-renowned professors and its proximity to the beach. Fofanah said that she researched the school top to bottom and ultimately decided that it was the program for her.

Her interest in maternal and child health guided her, and the college’s MCH Leadership Program was a huge selling point.

Fofanah at symposium w COPH leaders

Nanah Fofanah (front center) and COPH leaders and speakers at the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization’s annual symposium. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Preston)

“The fact that they had this program that gives students the opportunity to get into the field and that gives them a scholarship to do it? I had to apply,” she said.

She was accepted to the program, and she looks back on that as one of her proudest achievements in her time at USF. Another proud moment was serving as president of the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization and coordinating the organization’s annual symposium, which was very successful and featured Dr. Camara Jones, the current president of the American Public Health Association, as the keynote speaker.

Fofanah with Dr. Camara

Nanah Fofanah with Dr. Camara Jones at the Maternal and Child Health Student Organization’s annual symposium. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Preston)

Beyond her achievements, Fofanah said that her favorite memories from the college are of the people she’s met and has had the opportunity to interact with.

“It’s meeting people that you truly feel like you can always call on, and being able to be in a place where, although it’s new, it’s comfortable,” she said. “I made a friend, who I met on the first day of orientation, and we’re still close today.”

Due to the strong leadership and guidance of those around her, Fofanah has been able to grow in innumerable ways at COPH.

She thanks God, her husband Jerrell Frederick, her in-laws, her family, along with all her friends that helped see her through her journey. She also thanks the strong women in her life for showing her different things not only about their lives, but about herself. Her advisors and mentors, particularly Dr. Joann Richardson from VCU; Molly Fitzgerald, a fellow T. C William High school alumna; Laura Hamilton, president of the non-profit Bridging Freedom and Fofanah’s mentor through the MCH Leadership Program; and Drs. Ellen Daley and Jaime Corvin here at USF, have played key roles in her academic career and she’ll be able to take their guidance with her though all future endeavors.

“What I’m really looking forward to about graduation is just getting to pursue my passion. That’s what I’m excited about: finding that opportunity to be in a place where I’m being helpful, and I’m practicing what I love,” she said.

Fofanah

Nanah Fofanah at the annual MCHB Making Lifelong Connections Conference. (Photo courtesy of Fofanah)

“I truly believe that nobody ever has it all together,” she said. “I think that you continue to figure it out, but I know that in grad school I feel more confident that I am in the right place and the right field and doing what I need to do and that the thing that I am passionate about continues to be important to me.”

One of the things that has remained constant, however, is her dedication to women and girls everywhere.

“My dream career would be to be able to be my own employer where I’m working with other people to provide the right services to women and children in their communities,” she said. “I think that’s where I see myself being, a place where I’m learning, where I’m sharing, where I’m gaining, and where I’m also giving to people, and where we’re all better for it.”

If she could do anything, Fofanah said that her dream job would be to run her own non-profit.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own women’s health center in a developing country, preferably my country of birth, where women and children die every day of very, very preventable conditions,” she said. “I want to be developing myself and my passion and making sure my life and career is fulfilling.”

She says that her graduate experience has been different from that of her undergraduate studies because she’s been able to see herself grow and become more aware of who she is.

“I’m almost at a full circle in terms of who I am,” Fofanah said.

Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, USF College of Public Health

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