Each Wednesday, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek celebrates women and their accomplishments. This Wednesday, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Dr. Helena Ndume, a Namibian ophthalmologist who has performed over 30,000 free eye surgeries.
Before going into ophthalmology, which is the medical and surgical care of the eyes and visual system and in the prevention of eye disease, Dr. Ndume dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. However, after talking with a mentor and thinking about the needs of Namibia and its people, she decided to go into the field of medicine.
Upon returning from exile in 1989, she completed an internship and decided to specialize in ophthalmology. She says, “I could see that there were so many blind people here, blinded by preventable blindness just because we don’t have [enough] doctors in this country.”
The first place she went to was Rundu. Although her and her team examined 500 people and booked for 200 to come back, only 80 people came back for treatment because people were skeptical about eye surgery because it was something they never heard of.
Dr. Ndume describes the fear of the people who did not know about ophthalmology, “They were so scared. They said, ‘Have you ever heard of a person operating on people’s eyes? If you go there, your eyes will be damaged.'”
All 80 people who returned had their vision restored and termed the treatment as a miracle. The following year, many people came to be examined after hearing about the successful operations Dr. Ndume had performed.
Since then, Dr Ndume has traveled across the country and has even performed surgeries in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. Ndume is currently the head of the ophthalmology department at the Windhoek Central Hospital.
“It is very rewarding. For some people who have been maybe blinded for 10 years and then suddenly you operate and then they can see. Nobody can pay that happiness,” she said.
Dr Ndume has never been challenged or been told she cannot do something in the medical field because she is a woman. In her experience, she has found that everyone is equal and that it is one’s capability that matters, not gender.
She encouraged young girls following their dreams to remain focused and do what they think they can do best. She said, “They should be hardworking, [they] must study, be focused and read. Nobody should tell them that because [they] are [women], they cannot do [something]. Just go for it.”
Citing that there are women in positions that have been predominately dominated by men, she said that we should continue to empower women. She says that people should, “Empower women to become members of parliament, to become politicians, to go and debate, and even to become the head of state of the country.”
For her work and dedication to her community, Dr Ndume was the first woman to receive the UN Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize, which honors and recognizes the ‘outstanding achievements’ of people who have dedicated their lives to the service to humanity, particularly in the promotion of reconciliation, social cohesion and community development.
To learn more about Dr. Ndume’s medical career as well as to hear her thoughts on women’s empowerment, check out her interview in UNIC Windhoek’s you tube channel.