Empowering the next generation in Zambia

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Vocational service encourages Rotary members to share their knowledge and guide others in building a successful future through mentorship and training opportunities. By investing time in helping youth develop their skills, members are empowering the next generation.

In 2007, Dr. Jim Green, a member of the Rotary Club of Antioch in District 5160, North Central California, USA, started a dental clinic at the International Vision Volunteers (IVV) Eye Clinic in Zambia founded earlier by Antioch Rotarian Dr. Bud Tysinger and two other Rotarian eye surgeons. Brenda Mkandwire, a local young woman from Zimba, was selected to be the dental clinic assistant.

Because of her dedication, character, and intelligence, Jim sponsored Brenda in a 3-year program at the Dental Nurse Training School in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. After graduation, Brenda was accepted into a 5-year dental program at the Copperbelt University Medical School. Dr. Green, along with other Rotarians from his district, supported Brenda’s education-related expenses as she continued to excel in her academic program and grew in her professional experience.

With support from Rotarians in District 5160 Brenda is now a fully qualified Doctor of Dental Surgery employed by the Ministry of Health at the University Teaching Hospitals in Lusaka and considering a specialization in oral surgery. I asked Brenda and Dr. Green about her journey and experience with Rotary.

How did you come across Rotary?

Brenda: I first came across Rotary in 2002 when I learned about the Rotarian eye doctors and their teams coming to Zimba to help at International Vision Volunteers (IVV). The testimonies from the people impacted were compelling.  Having their sight restored at no cost at all was so amazing.

What made you decide to pursue an education in Dentistry?

Brenda: My first interaction with Dr. Green was in 2006. I had just finished high school and wanted to apply for a part time job at the IVV Eye Hospital as an interpreter when I heard of the doctors coming to visit Zimba.  Luckily, I was one of the successful candidates and got the job.

I was then assigned to be Dr. Green’s dental assistant with no medical background whatsoever.  It was then that I was inspired by his commitment and care. Dr. Green stirred a force in me to pursue dentistry; his support for my career development was, and still is, overwhelming.

What made you want to mentor Brenda and sponsor her education?

Dr. Green: Brenda is smart, focused, and dedicated. She has a natural aptitude for science and cares deeply about helping people. Zambia needs dentists, and I believed that she was a perfect candidate for the profession.

A small amount of money invested in a place like Zimba and in people like Brenda has a multiplier effect and can make profound changes in a community. Over the years, I’ve learned that helping one person has a ripple effect because it inspires others to work hard and to realize that they can achieve more than they thought.  Brenda has shown that by using her education and skills to help others.

How did Dr. Green and other Rotary members help you achieve your goals?

Brenda: Dr. Green believed in me more than I believed in myself. He believed that I could do it. He shared my story with other members of clubs and districts. They committed themselves financially to see that my dream became a reality. They nurtured every bit of it and continue to mentor and guide me. They have taught me that hard work does pay off.

How will you continue to support Brenda?

Dr. Green: During my 50 years in Rotary, I’ve made some important and lasting friendships, but my relationship with Brenda is very special.  She has become a member of my family. I believe Brenda is capable of whatever she wants to achieve.  Her goals grow and evolve with her accomplishments.  When she reaches one goal, she’s ready to move on to the next.

What are your plans for the future, and do you hope to stay involved with Rotary?

Brenda: I plan to excel professionally, as I have a dream to start my very own dental clinic with an opportunity to inspire others to follow their dreams, because I know it’s achievable. I want that opportunity to give back because Rotary has inspired me. I also plan to join Rotary, because it has proven to me that when we work together, we can make a lasting impact.

The evidence of Rotary’s impact in my community of Zimba can never be over emphasized. I would like to convey my gratitude to everyone in Rotary for their generosity and commitment.

Brenda will be visiting California, USA this spring to meet with other dental and healthcare professionals as well as leaders and supporters of International Vision Volunteers (IVV).  She’ll being speaking at Rotary clubs and events in California and Oregon about healthcare in Zambia and asking Rotarians to continue to support and encourage students who want a career in healthcare and who will give back to their home countries.  IVV is still investing in students like Brenda and is currently sponsoring a young man in optometry school so that he can return to Zimba after graduation and help the local community.

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