Many are familiar with the adage “It takes a village to raise a child.” To diagnose and treat children with cancer, however, it takes more than a village. It takes an entire community. Fortunately, in Botswana there’s a community increasing awareness of childhood cancer while also helping young patients and their families navigate challenges of combatting severe illness no child should ever have to endure.
Since 2007, children with cancer in Botswana could receive a diagnosis and treatment through Texas Children’s Hospital’s global hematology/oncology initiative (Global HOPE), in partnership with several organizations fiercely dedicated to stemming the wrath of childhood cancers in Botswana: the Government of Botswana, Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence Trust, Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Baylor College of Medicine.
Unpacking the acronym, HOPE stands for Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence, exactly what those affected by childhood cancer need – hope. Lions in Botswana are among those helping families see the possibilities, the hope, for a healthier future.
Amsha and her husband, Vinay, are two such Lions. In 2017, a blog about Childhood Cancer Awareness Month caught Amsha’s attention. The couple, then leading the Lions Club of Phakalane, one of Botswana’s 15 Lions clubs, was aware Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) recently expanded its global causes to include childhood cancer.
Over the last two years, representatives of Texas Children’s have engaged with LCIF and with Lions throughout Botswana and also participated in Lions’ events in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Lions, with support from LCIF, are committed and eager to bring about progress in the childhood cancer arena. Lions are raising awareness through Lions-sponsored health fairs; volunteering with Global HOPE’s Thrive program, to engage with hospitalized children and their families; participating with Leos in training sessions about pediatric cancer; speaking about childhood cancer at national and regional Lions events; and working together for our annual Survivor Party.
One of Lions’ most significant contributions is the Bell of Bravery. During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Lions of Phakalane generously donated the bell, the ringing of which signifies the end of long courses of cancer treatment and is now a tradition in many places.
We are blessed to see the Bell of Bravery in action, particularly in Botswana – a part of the world where children do not always have access to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Sixteen-year-old Palema was lucky to ring the bell. In 2018, Palema presented to the Global HOPE Botswana team with jaundice, anemia and enlarged lymph nodes. Diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, a malignant cancer requiring aggressive treatment, he endured several grueling months of chemotherapy treatment in the hospital, where he also spent many weeks undergoing daily radiation therapy. Nearly a year after we met him, Palema had a huge smile on his face as he proudly rang the Bell of Bravery.
Not every child will ring the Bell of Bravery, but with support from a community comprising Texas Children’s, Botswana-Baylor, Lions and LCIF, young patients like Palema have hope for brighter, healthier tomorrows.
To learn more about how LCIF and Texas Children’s Global HOPE are partnering to fight childhood cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, visit lionsclubs.org/GlobalHOPE.
Dr. Jeremy Slone is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist with Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine. He has been working in Botswana since 2012 where he is Medical Director of the Global HOPE Botswana program.