99FM – Your Inspiration Station

Dr Helena Ndume : Serving Humanity With the Gift of Sight

Known reverently as the ‘Miracle Doctor’, Dr Ndume has treated some 30 000 blind Namibians since 1997. In 2009, she was honored with a humanitarian award presented by the Namibia Red Cross Society for her work in restoring sight to those blinded by cataracts, and today she is the head of the Ophthalmology Department at Windhoek Central Hospital. 

In recognition of her dedicated service to humanity, Dr Ndume received the first United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize in 2015. A hero to the tens of thousands of Namibians she has treated, Dr Ndume sat down with 99FM’s Master Your Destiny to discuss what being a hero means to her.

Tell us your story:

I was born in Tsumeb. At 15 I went into exile – to school in Gambia and later came back to SWAPO headquarters in Luanda. I worked there in the transport department. Then, after a year, I was sent to Germany to study medicine. Medicine was my second choice. My first choice was to become a fashion designer. And Nahas Angula, who was the Secretary of Education then, said, ‘This fashion design of yours is just rubbish. Namibia does not need fashion designers, we need doctors.’

We were brought up not to talk back – you followed the instructions of the grown-ups. Looking back, I say, ‘Thank God.’

What do you think makes a hero?

Everyone is a her, in small or big ways. By helping someone who is in difficulty or danger, you can become a hero for that person. But it’s not that heroes should be Helena Ndume or Nelson Mandela because there are so many heroes around. Every person has his or her own heroes – that’s how I see it. 

What made you decide to do the acts of heroism that you do? 

Cataract operations are not supposed to be expensive, but they are. So I galvanised NGOs from all over the world to come and help. Since 1998, Surgical Eye Expeditions International, which is based in Santa Barbara, California, has been helping, bringing all the supplies that poor people cannot afford. Many people cannot afford to pay for a cataract operation in a private practice. So that’s why we have to go out and give them this operation free of charge. 

What inspired you to do what you do? 

Seeing these blind people after we’ve operated on them inspires me; the person eating fish, taking the bones out of it; a woman, six months after delivery who hasn’t seen her baby, sees her baby for the first time after operate. These things will always make you go back. 

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