By Miracle Nwankwo
On what was going to be a fateful day in his life, Shali, a Namibian who became blind after a poisonous snake spat into his eyes, sat on his hospital bed as he anticipated the miracle that was to happen to him having undergone a successful eye surgery performed on him by a miracle doctor.
That day in Shali’s life is just one out of many which have also been replicated in the lives of over 30,000 persons whose sight and freedom to life through vision were restored with the help of Dr Helena Ndume, the renowned Namibian ophthalmologist, offering free eye surgeries to vulnerable blind people around the world.
Dr Helena has been restoring the sight of vulnerable and disadvantaged people around the world. Every year, she performs sight-restoring surgeries on thousands of blind and sight-impaired men, women, and children, at no cost and in three decades, she has gained a record of over 30,000 successful sight-restoring surgeries.
In a world where it takes the intervention of a philanthropist, humanitarian and activist to secure freedom for the underprivileged and vulnerable, Dr Helena stands as an Amazon in southern Africa, granting freedom to many through access to vision care.
However, she could not have done this without the help of SEE International, a sight-restoring nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Santa Barbara, California. SEE provides access to vision care services to impoverished communities internationally and in the United States by connecting travelling volunteer doctors to clinics in need. They also provide critical supplies and technology that allow doctors to perform eye surgeries, free of charge to the patient.
Dr. Helena in collaboration with Surgical Eye Expeditions International (SEE International) has affected the lives of many humans positively and they are willing to affect more lives for the better. She encountered SEE through her husband, Dr. Solomon Guramatunhu, also an eye specialist, during a medical conference in the United States in 1995. She registered with (SEE) and joined a list of over 600 volunteer eye surgeons. Then she started to organize ophthalmological treatment camps throughout Namibia and this opened the country’s door to several international groups like SEE, Seeing Without Borders, and individual physicians who travel to Namibia every year, dedicating their time and employing their expertise in the service of caring for the eyes of the underprivileged.
The success of these eye camps in Namibia geared her to extend her eye-care projects to neighbouring Angola, and she has gained massive successes in all treatment camps.
Yet, she is relentless. She aims to spread her tentacles to the world most vulnerable people impaired with blindness, to bring them the gift of sight and freedom of life. Her motivation to serve this set of people stems from the civil unrest that she witnessed as a child; Dr Helena was 15 when she fled her homeland to live in Zambia. She also lived in Gambia and Angola, before moving to Germany to study medicine at the University of Leipzig. However, medicine was her second choice, Dr. Helena had always wanted to do fashion, her childhood dream was to be a fashion designer, but she was convinced by a loved one to go for medicine.
Dr Helena received her PhD from the University of Leipzig in 1989 and she returned home to start her internship at Katutura Hospital and Windhoek Central Hospital in Namibia. Upon completing her medical internship, she returned to Germany to specialize in ophthalmology at the University of Saarland. She spent part of her field studies in Tamil Nadu, India, where she participated in outreach services in eye care for the first time.
Currently, she serves as Head of Ophthalmology at the Windhoek Central Hospital. She once served as vice-chairperson of the Namibia Red Cross Society for six years, from 2001 to 2007.
Following her impact, she has received numerous recognitions both locally and internationally, including:
- Dr Helena Ndume and Jorge Fernando Branco Sampaio of Portugal became the first recipients of the United Nations Nelson Mandela Prize on 22 June 2015.
- Grand Commander of the Order of Namibia First Class;
- Red Cross International Humanitarian Service Award (2009);
- Rotary International Humanitarian Award in the fight against blindness (2008);
- Namibia National Science Award (2005);
- Humanitarian award in the prevention of blindness in Santa Barbara, California, USA (2001);
- Lions International Award in recognition of sincere and devoted efforts with Lions Operation Brightsight Project (1999).
Dr Helena continues to inspire many people especially those in the medical field following her commitment to putting smiles on the faces of less fortunate individuals as she brings hope to them.
For this reason, here at Amazons Watch Magazine, we chose to celebrate her for being a role model to other women by going over and beyond.