I got to know Zanele through LinkedIn, after mutual connections shared part of her story about her wonderful contribution to Dentistry. I wanted the world to know about the amazing talent Africa has, and here we are;
Hi Zanele, you are welcome to this episode of Words That Count
Hi Winnie, thank you for inviting me. I am happy to share my story
Please give a brief introduction about yourself
My name is Dr. Zanele F. Y. Dinika. I am currently an Associate Dentist at one of the leading practices in Harare, Zimbabwe and my area of special interest is Aesthetic Dentistry. Hopefully I will be able to further my studies in Restorative and Aesthetic Dentistry or Prosthodontics.
Wow! You are our first guest from Dentistry. How did you join this field?
I come from a medical background; my mother is a Midwife, my father a Pharmacist, my sister is a Dentist too. It is only natural that I find myself in the medical or health field. Because my sister was already a Dentist, I felt like the family had enough dentists and I originally did not want to go into that. Initially, I applied to be a Medical Doctor but it I could not get in as one, rather I was offered Dentistry. In the early stages, I believed I could always switch lanes to Medicine because we took the same courses together in the first and second years of medical school. I thought, maybe I would try and apply to do Medicine in the third year.
When third year came eventually, the Medical and Surgery clinical rotations came with it and school was unbelievably hectic. Then the Dentistry lectures began and my goodness was I not a natural! Dentistry came so naturally to me, it felt like the perfect place to be and I fell in love with everything Dentistry. That’s when I realised I really wanted to be a Dentist. Even though I was doing very well in the Medicine and Surgery classes, I found that I was totally comfortable and at ease in the field of Dentistry; I was born to be a Dentist. Like I always say; Dentistry chose me.
What challenges have you found while on this journey?
I would want to start with the transitioning from O’ to A’Level. The school that I attended did not accept students for A’Level Science if they did not make straight A’s in their O’Level Exams. I had three A’s and seven B’s, and although I felt B’s weren’t so far from A’s and that my A’s were in science subjects, it was one heck of a fight getting into the A’Level Science class. Determined as I was, I managed to get in and found myself sitting with students who had made as many as six A’s and seven A’s. By the time we were done with our A’Level, I had managed to get more points than the students who had straight A’s. This just lends credence to the notion that keeping students out of the A’Level Science classes just because they could not make straight A’s is not fair! For instance, I for one knew what I wanted, I knew where my strengths were. At a point, I resolved to join another school if my school refused me the A’Level Sciences that I wanted to study. I was confident I would get to do what I wanted to do in another school because B’s are good enough as long as you are determined and willing to persevere to the very end.
Then after my A’Level came another challenge, similar to the first; my accumulated points were just not enough to get me into Medical school. Worse, I could not even get into the Dentistry program. It was sad at first but God came through and after pushing so hard I made pleasing progress. So what happened was, I enrolled in the university to the program I was originally given. Then, during the first two weeks I took a chance to try and change the program. Fortunately, because certain prospective students do not enrol, there are usually vacant positions in certain programs and I took hold of that vacancy to register my interest and got in. What makes all this amusing is, come graduation, I was the overall best student in the Dentistry program. I am grateful to God that He came through for me, and I was able to overcome these challenges to succeed eventually.
I totally understand where you are coming from. I wish more systems take this kind of thing into consideration
How were you able to push through these challenges?
What inspired me most was the faith and confidence my parents, and my sister had in me. They never for a moment doubted my ability; they always knew that I am more than capable. They were willing to try to get me enrolled in the next school if the first one refused. Their confidence in me was quite overwhelming and it gave me this strength to keep going, never backing down, to, sort of repay their confidence and unwavering faith. I wanted to make my parents proud, I wanted to make my sister, who was like a deputy parent to me, proud too. This inspired me to do more and push harder. And now that I have a baby girl, I am more inspired to do more so she has someone to look up to and say “wow, if my mum did that, I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Let’s talk about your achievements and prestigious moments of recognition
First on the list will be what I mentioned earlier: I graduated top of my class as the overall best student and I also graduated as the best student in Community Dentistry.
So, realizing my affinity for community dentistry, oral health promotion and public health, I decided, after my internship, to go and work in a rural area. I moved from the city, settled in a rural area; a community called Chiweshe Rural where I worked with Howard Mission Hospital. In fact, I was the first resident Dentist they had after a very long time. I was, by this mission, sprucing up a dentistry unit that was just attending to patients once every week to a unit that was now able to attend to patients from Monday to Friday. I was able to move it from a unit that was just taking out bad teeth to a unit that was dedicated to giving holistic dental care; from filling cavities to restoration and replacing the teeth (dentures) of women who had lost some teeth.
There is one story I tell anytime I recount my achievements. There was this old woman in this rural area who came to my office and said to me “I think my teeth are sore, can you please take them all out?” This old woman had a bad case of gum disease and because there had been no attempts at treatment, it was at a stage where all her teeth had to come out. So I patiently and expertly took out all her teeth and continued to help her commit to a treatment plan that would help restore all her teeth. By the following week, she had been able to get her grandchildren to support this program and by the end of this treatment plan, we had restored all her teeth. This woman could not contain the joy, she was absolutely excited about her new teeth and especially her new smile that she kept smiling all the way home. The very next day, there was a long queue of old women, we call them gogos, who had come to get new teeth. “We have heard that you sell teeth, can we buy some?” And this remains one of the most touching experiences I have had. For me, I had done it, I had achieved what I set out to do: to serve a community that desperately needed dental services. To teach them that, there was always an option of restoration and to reset their minds on dental health care: for them to understand that it isn’t always taking out teeth but taking care of and restoring teeth. For me, this is one of the achievements I will forever talk about.
Now to a more recent achievement; every year, on the 20th March, because I remain passionate about oral health promotion, I volunteer for the Zimbabwe Dental Association’s campaign for World Oral Health Day. I have been a member of the association and I volunteer every year by leading the media campaign and as time went on, I kept moving up and taking on more assignments. This year, I was literally spearheading the whole campaign. We decided to add a new twist by involving local celebrities and public figures. For instance, we engaged this comedian called the ‘Comic Pastor’, who seemed like the best candidate for a brand ambassador because he was undergoing orthodontic treatment. There was an awareness video which went up on his YouTube and Facebook channels to publicize the campaign further. I am proud to say that it was a great campaign, there were many activities which engaged ordinary citizens like; prize giveaways and educational videos. It was absolutely to-die-for and I loved every bit of it. To cap it all, I was given a resounding yes, after an election, to join the Oral Health Promotions Subcommittee as an Executive member, the chairperson actually. I can’t wait to increase my influence within the dental field under my new appointment.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I am first of all a wife to a very loving and supportive husband. I believe that a supportive partner is very important and I do not think I would be where I am today without his perpetual support. He is currently studying for a PhD in Germany and I am as supportive as he was of me, pushing me to soar higher every time.
I am also a mother, a new mum actually, to a seven-month old baby girl and I am loving the challenge of motherhood. Balancing all the work and achieving greater heights and being a mother to this baby girl makes me feel like a superwoman.
Also, I am a content creator, I am quite loquacious and I am not at all camera-shy. I like to create content and so I have a YouTube channel with over 4k subscribers. I am very active on Twitter with about 3k followers, Instagram with about 4.6k followers and Facebook too. I try to do as much education as I can on all these platforms. I like to also share bits and pieces of my life to inspire all the younger ladies who look up to me and feel inspired by me.
I have a passion for makeup and I have this business on the side where I do makeup for people on their special occasions like weddings and anniversaries. I’ve been doing this since 2017 and I completely enjoy doing it. Finally, I am a co-founder of a clothing line which specializes in medical apparel. My mother-in-law is a designer and with the help of my husband and his brother we were able to start a medical apparel clothing line that is afro-centric. We make formal clothes and casual clothes; our clothes can be custom-made to fit our clients. To see my work, please check my; Makeup page @glamour_bae_zim, Clothing Brand @house_of_dinika, and Medical Apparel Line @zanie.d
What is your favourite quote?
“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” ~ Mae Jemison, first African American woman astronaut in space.
Please give some words of encouragement to a young girl in STEM
What I would want to say to any young lady out there is that, push on, do not, by any means, give up and do not listen to the people that say that you can not do some particular thing because of your gender. If I had listened to the person that said that I could not study science because I did not make straight A’s or if I had listened to person who felt that I could not be a Dentist because my points weren’t enough, I would have convinced myself that I couldn’t. If you know that you can do it, if you are passionate about it then don’t give up, keep pushing on and you can achieve it. Put your mind to it, focus intently and block out all negative influence that seem to discourage you. Follow your heart, follow your passion for that is the only way to be happy in whatever it is that you set out to do.
Thank you, Zanie! And congratulations upon the amazing work you do and success in Dentistry. You are an amazing example and hope to young African girls.