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COORDINATOR - Onica Lekuntwane
COORDINATOR - Onica Lekuntwane
COORDINATOR - Onica Lekuntwane

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Give Hope, Save Lives

Breast Cancer Awareness ‘In Your Hands’

Breast cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in Botswana, after cervical cancer.

And with government-funded cancer care provided mainly by Princess Marina Hospital, for a majority of Batswana, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) dedicated to ‘giving hope’ to the country by promoting breast cancer awareness thus ‘saving lives’ – which is in line with this year’s theme – are a true blessing. One such NGO is Journey of Hope Botswana (JOHB).

Founded in 2008, the organisation is the brainchild of Bev Denbury, Rita Keevil and Marilyn Garcin – a trio of charitable women who were brought together by the sole objective of raising funds for a friend diagnosed with breast cancer.

JOHB educates women (and men) about breast cancer, to demonstrate the self-examination technique and conduct breast examinations, and through their current awareness campaign, ‘In Your Hands’/’Mo Diatleng tsa Gago’ social media campaign, the NGO aims to help destigmatise the disease and encourage individual accountability.

“The goal is to empower women throughout Botswana about the disease and encourage early detection. If these examinations (done by hand and with a portable ultrasound machine) reveal a concern, JOHB organises further tests at Bokamoso Private Hospital, who subsidise the costs to allow us to assist as many patients as possible. Further, we help patients secure appointments at the Princess Marina Hospital Breast Clinic, where they are given a treatment plan and begin treatment soon afterwards” says Onica Lekuntwane, a JOHB Coordinator/volunteer, who spoke to Voice Woman about this year’s awareness campaign activities which include the #HowPinkCanYouGo challenge and their recent collaboration with the National AIDS & Health Promotion Agency (NAHPA) to take awareness to the Kweneng East District and promote voluntary screening.

GRATEFUL: Kenalemang Mantswemabe sharing about how Journey of Hope Botswana helped her to get diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018

Journey of Hope is mostly known for the scooter rides around the country spreading awareness and raising funds.Tell us more about that and other activities of the NGO.

Since 2010, a group of volunteers take leave from their regular jobs, to embark on a weeklong trip to different districts throughout Botswana.

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This is known as The Big Journey. The team of riders, support vehicles, doctors, nurses and crew head for kgotlas, clinics and health posts – to educate about breast cancer, to demonstrate the self-examination technique and then conduct breast examinations on the men and women who gather. Donations from sponsors allow us to cover transport and accommodation costs, as many of the people we assist do not have relatives in Gaborone.

Our objectives include:

• To support and attend public health events.

• To teach the importance and techniques of self-examination at every opportunity

• To produce and distribute information pamphlets..

• To present a national media awareness campaign (the ‘In Your Hands’/’Mo Diatleng tsa Gago’ social media campaign).

October is International Breast Cancer Awareness month, what do you have planned for this year?

We will be launching a Kweneng East Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign as we join the rest of the world in commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Give Hope, Save Lives” and it ties in quite well with Journey of Hope Botswana’s early detection message of Tshwara.Leba.Tlhatlhoba / Touch.Look.Check, which they will be using to encourage screening in the region until the end of March 2022.

About 2 months ago, Orthosurge Botswana approached JOHB about ‘breaking the rules for breast cancer awareness’.

This was the birth of #HowPinkCanYouGo. The challenge is for everyone to go ‘unusually pink’ by changing their Facebook logos to pink or by taking part in a pink challenge.

We are also asking them to make a pledge to Journey of Hope Botswana’s activities, which include the printing of awareness materials, as well as the ability to conduct awareness talks and self-examination demonstrations.

We also hope to get back on the pink scooters to raise breast cancer awareness throughout Botswana.

Let’s talk more about Orthosurge’s involvement…

Orthosurge Botswana started the challenge by pledging P10 000 to Journey of Hope Botswana, but one can pledge anything they can; either volunteer or to spend time with a fighter or caregiver to understand their challenges first-hand.

JOHB has A2 awareness posters that one can put up on notice boards and restrooms to share knowledge and potentially save someone’s life.

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The reaction to being asked to change one’s Facebook logo has been met with shock by some, and discomfort by others.

PROUD: Kgosi Mhaladi and DR Mukhuwa (Kweneng DHMT) unveiling the awareness plaque at Molepolole main Kgotla

But isn’t that the point? Aren’t those similar emotions to being told that you have a potentially life-threatening disease? Logos will go back to normal after the 31st, but the lives of the breast cancer fighter and that of their caregiver are turned around as they manoeuvre physical and emotional challenges of treatment, stigma and adapting to a new normal.

This is why we are excited about another October initiative by Organic Naturals Skincare.

Their #PinkSkinCareDrive allows the public to gift a breast cancer fighter, survivor or caregiver with a skincare product.

Organic Naturals Skincare will then match this purchase to increase the number of recipients.

All one has to do is send a motivation to JOHB saying why their fighter, survivor or caregiver deserves a gift this month.

How many volunteers do you have?

The number of volunteers is quite difficult to put a fixed number to right now because the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to many of our activities that require physical participation.

A Big Journey usually involves about 40 volunteers in the convoy, and our awareness talks and outrides are anything between 2 and 10 volunteers at a time.

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A team of 1, until March 2022, is handling the ongoing NAHPA campaign.

We have volunteers in almost every district that we have visited over the past 10 Big Journeys.

How can one become a volunteer?

We send out a volunteer application form on request. Each participant must undergo training and familiarise themselves with our social media and ethics policies before participating in awareness activities.

What is the most effective weapon to combat breast cancer?

Definitely awareness. If you know better, you can do better.

• Most people seek medical attention when their cancer is at stages 3 and 4, which are challenging and expensive to treat. If everyone knows what changes to look out for, and that most signs are painless then they can seek treatment much sooner.

• Being aware that our lifestyle choices can lead to cancer is an opportunity to make better choices of what we eat and how we keep fit.

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Breast cancer is now classified as a non-communicable disease alongside diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.

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