Alumna recognized for having the spirit of humanity

To have the spirit of humanity, you do whatever is appropriate in the situation. You do what's best for humanity.

Donna Richardson - 11 September 2018

Esmé Lanktree (MSc '08) has travelled the world visiting places such as Bangladesh, Barbados, Haiti, Malaysia, Nepal and Uganda. While some of us enjoy walking beaches, hiking trails or touring museums when visiting far off places, Lanktree has seen very different sights, from the effects of tropical disease outbreaks to the devastation left by hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

In 2007, she conducted fieldwork in Uganda for her MSc thesis research, supervised by former professor Duncan Saunders. There she was looking at whether HIV-positive women adhered to infant feeding guidelines more closely than other mothers who were HIV-negative.

While in Uganda, there was an Ebola outbreak. While some people would look for the first ticket back to Canada, Lanktree sprang into action. For example, she had to move quickly to cancel fieldwork in order to protect her research assistants and checked on one hospitalized team member.

The experience in Uganda taught her something about herself and shaped Lanktree's decision to focus her career on humanitarian issues.

"I felt I was able to work well, contribute and help. When other people might panic, I am able to keep calm and do my work," she said. "I returned home knowing I wanted to continue responding appropriately in situations and make an impact where time is critical and the need is great."

Since graduating, Lanktree has worked in public health in Montreal, in Ottawa with the Canadian government, as well as with the World Health Organization in Barbados. She is currently a program officer working in public health in emergencies and training with the Canadian Red Cross in Ottawa. The role allows her to put into practice what she learned during her graduate program.

"We don't just go into an emergency situation and then leave," she explained. When the Canadian Red Cross responds to an emergency, they send staff and equipment, but follow-up training of local staff and volunteers is integral to the response effort.

"It's rewarding to develop capacity in the areas where I've been deployed. I find it motivating to see others become leaders in their field, take control of programs and become self-sufficient," she said.

Lanktree has volunteered since she was a teenager when she was active with the Canadian Rope Skipping Federation. Her interest in volunteering can be traced back to her upbringing, including the influence of her grandmother who is now over 90 years old and continues to offer her time and talent with various organizations.

Since 2011, Lanktree has volunteered with the Canadian Red Cross-before she began employment with the organization in 2015. She's helped out in emergency situations, such as the wildfires in British Columbia, and in major response operations, including the Syrian refugee response.

Lanktree thinks her volunteer experiences make her a more effective leader when she is sent out with the Canadian Red Cross. "I can do my job and connect so much better with local volunteers in the countries I am sent to because I myself am a local volunteer at home," she explained. "I'm better equipped to advocate for people who are affected by emergencies and disaster situations."

The School of Public Health is honouring Lanktree with the This is Public Health™ Alumni Award, which recognizes an alumnus/a who has demonstrated the spirit of humanity through leadership, advocacy and volunteerism.

When asked in which of these dimensions-leadership, advocacy or volunteerism-she is making the greatest difference, she said, "They are really intertwined. If you look at them, the greatest difference maker should be leadership. But to me, the spirit of humanity is the key part."

"To have the spirit of humanity, you do whatever is appropriate in the situation. You do what's best for humanity."

The This Is Public Health™ Alumni Award was established in 2016 as a legacy initiative to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the School of Public Health. This award recognizes an alumnus(a) who has demonstrated the spirit of humanity in a local, national or international capacity through leadership, volunteerism and / or advocacy.