Heroes are born and they are a blessing. Their definition of successes is self-evident in the influence and impact of their work on others. “No money in this world can pay for the happiness of someone who was blind and suddenly you take off that eyepatch and they say I can see.” These are the words of a once upon a time fashion designer hopeful who now change the lives of thousands by restoring their sight.
Namibian ophthalmologist Helena Ndume excelled despite giving up her dream of working in the fashion fraternity for something bigger. Now instead of improving people’s looks, she is restoring their sight.
For 20 years now, her work has done the talking. And in turn she has received numerous local and international awards of recognition. In 2015, she was awarded the first ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize in recognition of her dedication service to humanity.
Referred to as Namibia’s Miracle Doctor, Dr Ndume was this week awarded the 2017 New African Woman in Health, Science and Technology Award at a gala dinner held in Senegal. She did so elegantly by competing with some of the continents heavyweights in different fields with votes from the African diaspora.
“It is very humbling. It is a nice thing to win an award, but the real award is in the lives of people that you touch and the lifes of people that you have changed,” said Helena
In the industry since 1997, Helena says her journey has been very fulfilling making reference to the stories narrated by those who have regained their sight. This is her drive in life.
In a society where going blind has become acceptable and a part of life, Helena’s touch has over the years challenged this status quo and thousands now have faith in her miracle touch.
“Many people who have lost their vision for almost ten years and then they come to me and you do the operation. The next day you take off the eye-patch and they tell you that they can see. That is what inspires me.”
She adds: “When we started, people were skeptical. Many said that this little girl will damage your eyes. But those who came out and went back to their village seeing spread the message like wildfire.”
“What pushes me is the will to change a person’s life. Do it and make the person independent. It is not only the individual impacted but also the whole community. Those who used to take care of the blind will now be free. The person themselves can now go back and work on the field. You are simply providing them their independence.”
Internationally renowned for her humanitarian work Dr Ndume has done more than 35 000 surgeries. She is the head of the eye department at Windhoek’s Central Hospital but also runs a blindness prevention program. Dr Ndume says that over the years, her biggest achievement is being able to change the lives of thousands but also being able to grow a team of reliable colleagues that have helped build her reputation and restore the dignity of Namibians with sight.
Outside the walls of the Central Hospital, Dr Ndume is a fashionista and a fitness enthusiast. She wakes up every morning to climb the mountain for fitness. Then gets ready for work to do what she does best.
“When I get to work I pray that there are no challenging cases. I look forward to put a smile on people’s faces and that my beautiful team is complete. There are people who I started working with in 1997 and we are still together. They have become my big family. They tell me M’kwamalanga, natuyeni ashike komesho waa.”
After a long day at work, the Tsumeb girl, who is a mother of one looks forward to seeing her bed.
“Sometimes I don’t even get time to read newspapers. Sometimes I watch the news and fall asleep so my day is over. On weekends there is so much to do. I like cooking a lot and try out different recipes.”
With a heavy schedule but equally a need to society, one wonders when the miracle doctor catches up with her love for fashion. Upon meeting her, her taste and touch for fashion is an open secret and the fashion lover has remained in touch with looking beautiful at all times. She says she still goes to local fashion shows to keep up with what’s new and what’s there to take.
The mother and role model ended the interview with wise words to both the young women and men.
For Women: “My wish for the Namibian young women is for them to follow their dreams. If they focus on something, they should pursue it. A Namibian young woman must be independent. They must be in control of their lives. They must get an education. They must humble themselves and respect each other. We must promote one another as women. For the older ones, we must pull the others up when we climb the ladder. We should not leave them behind.”
“Today we have those who are just dreaming to get a rich man. This must stop. You must be able to say you saw something nice in a shop and you are going to buy it. But you are not going to your boyfriend to ask for money. Many women are abused in relationships but they cannot get out because they are not financially independent. And we all know that independent women won’t stand for such nonsense. So work hard for your dreams.
For Men: “They must stop beating women asemblief tog. They are not your property. I don’t know how many eyes of women that we have taken out because of men. There is no marriage without problems but when you have problems you sit and sort it out. I also want them to stop discriminating women especially when it comes to employment. You too are born by a woman.”
“All in all, be positive and humble yourself. And do not forget where you come from.”