#WednesdayCelebrateWomen: UNIC Windhoek celebrates senior resident nurse Sister Christy

As a way to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, UNIC Windhoek is continuing with its #WednesdayCelebrateWomen campaign from last year, through which the Centre celebrated inspiring women each Wednesday. This year, as a way to get to know each feature better, UNIC Windhoek will feature one inspiring women per month.

For this month’s #WCW, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Christolina Kaventura, a registered nurse by profession who is popularly known as Sister Christy.

Sister Christy is currently employed at the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN). She is actively involved in generating cancer awareness at the community level and through social media, in the organization of wellness days and in training nurses on pap smears and breast examinations. Sister Christy’s true passion involves the National Cancer Outreach Programme which allows her, together with the CEO Rolf Hansen, to visit the rural areas of the country to host cervical and breast cancer screenings and to educate fellow Namibians.

Check out Sister Christy’s interview with UNIC Windhoek! Read along as she talks about cancer in Namibia, challenges faced by Namibia’s health system and shares her thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Can you tell us more about your appointment to the First Lady’s Advisory Council? What kind of positive changes do you hope to promote while on the council? 

The appointment was on 01 November 2016 and is till 31 October 2020, and it is [given to] individuals with expertise on HIV and cancer related issues.

The First Lady personally requested several referrals to advise on women’s health for oncology (specifically, cervical cancer awareness, education and screening). I along with other candidates from CAN were appointed. I commit myself to providing information and advice on matters critical to health, and I engage in matters/activities where action is needed to the benefit of the council. I wish to provide innovative ideas based on my work experience and exposure in support of the First Lady’s strategic pillars (health).

What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality?

Every woman deserves the right to quality education and health care services. An empowered woman has more confidence and the ability to tackle gender inequality.

Women should be seen as equal members of the community. Through this, they will achieve more respect. Women’s empowerment and equality is negatively affected by the cultures and should be addressed through the engagement of traditional leaders and headmen.

I think there has been a certain level of improvement in terms of gender equality in Namibia, but sometimes there tends to be a level of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

In terms of women’s empowerment, what would you like to see happen in the next generation?

I would like to see more women taking leadership positions in many organisations, [increased] visibility of innovative and creative young women in this generation as well as all possible opportunities in terms of human development benefiting women in Africa.

I want more young women to be able to participate in policy and decision making plans. The Government, as well other organisations, should start investing intensively in awareness raising and putting in place measures to control violence against women. I would like to see more young women being educated at the tertiary level and outnumbering men in medicine and technical fields.

What are your thoughts on health care in Namibia?

My most vast worry about Namibian health care lies with the quality of life for patients up until end of life, for palliative patients. There is a huge need of a palliative care centre or hospices in Namibia.

Unequal distribution of health [resources] still remains a concern because health care in Namibia still benefits the rich or the high-income population, as they can afford private health care services. We need systems that can connect our healthcare systems in Namibia and allow all Namibians, irrespective of our socioeconomic background, to have better access to quality healthcare.

I have noticed that the nurse/healthcare provider – patient relationships, especially in the state health facilities, have been negatively affected/influenced. The general community talks negatively about the health care providers in state facilities, and this leads to patients no longer having faith in treatment received. This may affect patients’ recovery and may lead to an increase in many patients not seeking health care and not adhering to treatment. This should be taken seriously and be improved through awareness.

More still needs to be done to ensure continuity of care in state facilities as well as between state and private facilities. The nation needs to be more informed or made aware that health care does not only remain the responsibility of the Government/Ministry of Health and Social Services, but each one of us is highly responsible for our own health while [possibly, simultaneously] responsible for others (in the case of children, their parents take responsibility).

There seems to be weaknesses in keeping lines of communication between health care providers and patients/families/employers, and the psycho-social aspect of health seems to be neglected by our health care systems. Patient health care does not only end with the patient’s life, but every patient does have a social life too. This includes families or employers, and they play a huge role in the patient’s recovery and rehabilitation. I think more education needs to be done on the psycho-social aspect of health in order to better recovery, rehabilitation and to counteract discrimination or stigma in cases of some chronic illnesses, as this may improve the qualities of life amongst those affected.

There are still areas of [Namibia] where patients, especially in remote rural areas, have to drive from far, especially for cancer treatment, since the only treatment centre is the AB May Cancer Care centre in Windhoek. Traveling this far from home may be an overwhelming burden, sometimes with little help from the CAN with transport money. Sadly, sometimes some patients choose not to be treated at all or delay to come for their treatment. We hope in the future with more oncologists these services will be brought closer to these isolated regions/areas.

What’s your take on cancer awareness in Namibia, and what do you think can be done to better the level of awareness of preventable cancers?

According to researchers, 40% of cancers can be prevented. Currently CAN is doing its best, through the National Cancer Outreach Campaigns, to create awareness. More still needs to be done because awareness creation and public health education should be an on-going process. Health care information systems in Namibia need to step up, and these systems should be [not be fragmented and instead be integrated].

More public awareness and education through the media on healthy lifestyles and the link between HIV/AIDS and some types of cancers should be done. The Government can play a critical role but through synergistic partnership with civil societies to improve awareness and reduce duplication in cancer as well as ensure accurate information is delivered (this will ensure everyone is spreading the same message). This will help the nation in taking the message seriously.

Political mobilization, a union of more awareness activities and more youth involvement will support a comprehensive approach in preventable cancer awareness. The general public should also involve themselves in these cancer awareness activities through social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and share the message of healthy lifestyles, early detection in order to prevent these cancers.

I think it will also be important to introduce the link between cancer and healthy life styles or basics on childhood cancer as a topic into the school’s life skill curriculum as from the upper primary level. Children need to be made aware before they start with activities, like smoking and alcohol consumption, because sometimes is difficult to stop when already started. If measures on awareness creation are taken at an early level, then misconceptions about some forms of cancer will be counteracted and people will start seeking health care early. Those individuals who are public figures, community leaders, traditional leaders/healers and political leaders should be used for or be involved in spreading the message of healthy lifestyles, early warning [signs] and the importance of timely health care for cancer.

In your experience, what is the most common type of cancer in Namibia and which gender is mostly affected?

The most prevalent type of cancer is breast cancer; the most affected are women. Whereas, skin cancer is the second most prevalent and more common among men. Cervical cancer [is also] increasing at an alarming rate, of course only affecting women.

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which include 17 Goals that aim to transform the world by 2030. Which of the SDGs resonates with you the most and why? How do you / plan to work towards achieving this goal?

Goal 3: Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for All at All Ages.

As we all know without a healthy nation, sustainable development cannot be achieved. Health is a fundamental human right for everyone, irrespective of your gender, race, age educational status or socio-economic background. Every person is entitled to have the best possible health status. As a health worker, I feel is my responsibility to be part of the team that actively works hard in order to promote health, prevent disease and prolong life.

As part of the CAN, I will use the opportunity during the national cancer outreach campaigns, to be able to monitor and assess the challenges faced by our health systems and communicate accordingly. As we are all aware, lifestyle choices determine our health and well-being. Therefore, during these community campaigns and educational talks, I will try my utmost best to create awareness and provide health education on the importance of healthy lifestyle choices and timely health care, not only [for] cancer but [for] health in general.

Why is it important to empower women and girls to pursue careers in the medical field, especially in a society where traditional cultural roles dictate the value and rights of women?

It is and will remain my wish for women to outnumber men in the medical field. Women have always been central in providing medical care, whether offering remedies in the home, nursing homes and villages or through their roles as mothers, caretakers or nuns, because of this I think women will make the best doctors.

Medical knowledge is developed and passed on in many ways. Every community has ideas about the causes of and cures for suffering, illness and disease. These are often spiritual/ traditional beliefs as well as practical therapies, techniques and cultural practises which sometimes causes misconceptions about health. I think the women are the most important pillars of the nation in overcoming these misconceptions. Therefore, it is important to have women in the medical field.

In my experience as a nurse, patients tend to be more assertive with women health workers. They seem to be more open to them (patients feel like they are really talking). If we have more women as doctors [in a] society where traditional cultural roles dictate the value and rights of women, I think that women will be able to advocate for others and be more valued and respected.

After a long day at work, what do you do to unwind?

Life is all about balance. After a long day at work, family time is always on the call out. I spend time at home with my family performing my responsibilities as a wife and a mother (cooking, cleaning) and have a 30-minute period of physical activity (exercise). I also spend some time watching TV with my kids. I enjoy doodling on weekends or curling up with a good book. Sunday is mostly preserved for relaxation.

What motivates you, and who is your role model?

My husband is my biggest motivator. I will not be embarrassed to mention that since ever we started socialising years back, he has been telling me how vital my education and dreams are. He always reminded me that no real man wishes to be with a woman who is not esteeming her dreams. Though, taking my life seriously or being who I want to be was not all because of him, but [our relationship] gives me stimulus in doing what I want to do and helps me broaden my personal horizon.

Working for a welfare organisation like CAN has intensified my passion for helping others, and this also inspires me to help others and bring change in their life. I get a lot of support from my manager, CAN CEO Mr Rolf Hansen. He always helps me discover the extent of my capabilities and helps develop my leadership and problem solving skills.

I have some motivational [characteristics] myself; I am a hard worker, positive thinker and I’ve learnt a lot from my toughest failures and [use these lessons on the path to] my future. My late Grandfather was and will always be my role model, because of the way he led by example and instilled in me good solid values. He will remain my main inspiration. I am who I am today because of his support.

What is your advice to girls following their dreams?

To all girls following their dream, you have already made the right decision by doing so. All you need to know is that with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible. Your dreams are what [get you through] during difficult times, and during these difficult times, always find time to remind yourself that you are in the right track and in the end you will be an inspiration to others.

Learn from your mistakes and never give up. Never allow your dream to be shaped or determined by others expectations because no one else will pursue them for you. As we all know in life we come across people who make you feel your dreams are impossible, use this as fuel to make your dream come true and prove them wrong.

Sometimes [dreams are not understood by] parents and [because of] some cultural backgrounds. Keep your head high and be strong because in the end you will make them all proud. In life, every girl is special and every girl has earned the right to be exactly who she is. Each one of us has a unique story to tell about life, with our own unique dream and will go through different challenges and different routes to reach them, but in the end the most important is that you will get there and accomplish your goals and dreams, no matter how long it takes.

Always rely on yourself, just make use of others to guide you, because when all else fails, you need to put on your metal shoes and do it yourself because you can. Remember that being at the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people can ruin a person’s life. It is important to make sure you hang around the right/positive people who will motivate you to do the right thing.

It is important for every girl to follow their dream with integrity. It’s not about how you look in the eye of others but is who you are in terms of humanity. It’s about your morals. No matter how things are around you and how many times you fail, [it is important to be] decent, truthful, and honest, and most importantly to honour yourself.

Last but not least, cast your burden to the lord, pray to Him and He will carry you through. With Him you will never fail. “The integrity of the upright will guide them but the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy.” Proverbs 11:13