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A Zambian Girl with Dreams of Her Own

June 26, 2013 by Katie Bernet, Katie Bern

When I was thirteen I dreamt of being a professional ballerina; I danced every day and read Dance Magazine during math class at school. At that age, I believed, without question, that being a dancer was my path, however, life takes unexpected turns. When I started as a dance major at New York University, I never imagined I would one day transfer to Southern Methodist University to study advertising and photography.  And never in my wildest dreams, did I think that I would join the George W. Bush Institute on a service trip to help combat cervical cancer in Livingstone, Zambia.

In Smonga, outside of Livingstone, I met Helen, a thirteen year old girl with dreams of her own - to one day become a nurse. Walking barefoot beside me, she proudly showed me her home, that lacks electricity and running water.  In perfect English, her second language, she told me how she loves her mother, her younger siblings, soccer and school. She studies each night by candle light, because she believes that hard work will let her realize her goal of becoming a nurse.

Everyone has a dream of who they will become, but few ever imagine that the dream may one day end in the nightmare of being told that they have cervical cancer. For many women in Zambia, this is reality.

There are an estimated 493,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year worldwide and Zambia has the second highest number of cases. These women are faced with fighting a disease that could have been easily treated if caught at an early stage. Cervical cancer can be detected with a simple test that involves placing a single drop of vinegar on the cervix. The test is easy, but giving Zambian women access to the test proves to be more difficult. Along with 3 other SMU students, one professor and two Bush Institute volunteers, I have been helping the Bush Institute and the Zambian government to renovate the Mosi-Oa-Tunya clinic in Livingstone which will screen women for cervical cancer. Zambian and American volunteers have been working side by side to make sure that women will not have to take the unexpected turn down the road of cervical cancer.

I never imagined that my first trip outside of the United States would be to Zambia to work and meet with such inspiring people like Helen. My hope for her is that her life will offer her opportunities she never imagined. I hope that she and her friends will be able to use clinics like Mosi-Oa-Tunya to be screened regularly for cervical cancer so that they can lead healthy, fulfilling lives, just like me.

Katie Bernet is a student at Southern Methodist University and is part of a small volunteer delegation selected to begin renovations on a cervical cancer clinic in Livingstone, Zambia.

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