MS Commencement Speaker: Pamela Titi, MS'16

May 22, 2016

Pamela Titi

In 2005, I was on top of the world. After having graduated from law school, and then passing the Bar in my country, I was sure that I was going to be the best lawyer in Uganda. Science and health management were the farthest things from my mind. Then, in 2007, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Gabby, who was born with severe brain damage. I was told she had no hope of ever walking or talking.

With the financial support of my family, I traveled to many different countries trying to find the best health care for my daughter. Finally, she started getting treatment in the United States. Gabby started to improve, because of the quality and constancy of the therapy she was getting—therapy that was not offered, nor even understood, back home in Uganda. 

I knew that continuing this therapy would make a difference in Gabby’s life. But it soon became clear that I would not be able to continue in my profession as a lawyer in Uganda while traveling back and forth to the United States for Gabby’s care.

In 2011, while riding on a train from New York to Boston one day, I sat next to a lady and we picked up a conversation. I told her my story and she told me that rather than coming to the States for treatment all the time, I should go back home and set up a health center to offer therapy and support to the children with special needs, and their families, in Uganda. In that moment, she changed my way of thinking and I began to believe that there could be a different way, and I could make a difference. I formed a vision of a therapy center back home.

My angel, her name is Sue, introduced me to a friend of hers—a professor of public health at Boston University. The professor invited me to be a guest speaker in her class and share my vision and proposal for such a Center. At the end of that talk, 20 students in the class signed up to volunteer to help start up the Center. She opened her networks of people, from international health consultants to doctors and interns from American universities.  Within a year, the angel, the professor, and 5 of her students traveled to Kampala and we had opened the Tunaweza Children’s Center for children with special needs. In Swahili Tunaweza means “We can.” Tunaweza is the first therapy center of its kind in East Africa.

But because I was not qualified to manage such an organization, despite my other skills, my angel encouraged me to go back to school. I couldn’t find the right match for my needs, but then one friend said, “You should go to the Heller School. You will save time, money and you will get the skills you need.” I visited the school and met Professor Diana Bowser, and I knew this was the place for me.

My daughter changed the trajectory of my life, which sent me through the Heller School to this moment today. Persistence, and the miracle of therapy, has paid off; Gabby is now in mainstream school in the third grade.

Now, I am ready to return to Uganda and bloom where I was planted. And bloom for the tens of thousands of Gabby’s in Uganda who are hidden, abused, maltreated, or untreated, because of ignorance. Gabby is my most precious blossom, and with the skills I have acquired at the Heller School, others will blossom. Today the center attracts interns and professionals from USA, Canada and Europe. I am already using, to great benefit, what I’ve learned at Heller.

Though, as a lawyer, science had never been my subject, yet here I am a proud recipient of a Master's in the science of health policy and management. The professors led the learning in a way that my law background did not hinder my fitting in with any class. Our learning is built on what we have known, what we have done, new skills we have gained, and students enriching each other’s experience through their own experience. This is the beauty of the Heller School, a place where you share knowledge and experiences. All of us who have been part of the Heller School will recognize what I describe as such a diverse place with extraordinary professors who are generous with their knowledge and networks.

I want to thank my Mother and my family for supporting me, and to the Class of 2016 and all students at Heller. I also want to thank my father who always believed in me and was so looking forward to this day, but didn’t make it. He died one month ago. I believe he is here with me, looking over me and that is why I have made it. Rest in Peace, Adyeri.

I will close with a quote from the great African, Nelson Mandela who said, Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. The Heller School has given us the tools and the connections that we need to make change. To my fellow students, I have learned that every chapter in your life builds a foundation to launch the next chapter. You all have what it takes, You Can Do It …….. 

Thank you.