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Mandela Prizewinner from Namibia Still Bringing Sight to the Blind

WINDHOEK, Aug 4 2015 (IPS) - There was pure emotion in the face of Dr. Helena Ndume, more used to bringing sight to the blind than wiping away tears of her own.

Photo courtesy of the 2015 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

Photo courtesy of the 2015 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize

According to friends, she was caught off guard by the rousing welcome awaiting her this past week at the Hosea Kutako International Airport after picking up the first U.N. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize in New York.

“This is not a Helena Ndume award. It belongs to Namibia,” she said as more tears welled up in her eyes. “We should not leave our people and leave them to be blind. It is not their fault that they are blind. I cannot lock myself in my practice when the nation needs me.”

According to the nonprofit SEE International based in Santa Barbara, California, Ndume has performed 30,000 pro bono surgeries for sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. The blind patients are filled with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She was also vice chairperson of the Namibia Red Cross Society.

This summer she will collaborate with SEE on three programmes in Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organisation expects 700 patients to regain their eyesight during the three-week course of the tour.

Ndume left Namibia for exile at age 15. She lived in Zambia, and Gambia where she completed secondary school, and Angola, before going to Germany to study medicine.

Growing up, she wanted to be a fashion designer. On her not-pursued fashion dream, she said, “Yes, I wanted to be a fashion designer but the Swapo secretary of education in our refugee camp (former Prime Minister Nahas Angula) said ‘No way! We do not need fashion designers in an independent Namibia. To come make clothes for who? We need doctors and I want you to be a doctor’,” she said.

She is currently the head of the Ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists.

During an interview she had with The Namibian last month, Ndume encouraged young girls to learn how to be independent.

“You need to be independent as a woman. Instead of depending on a man and then he uses you and you end up being treated like toilet paper, you need to work for yourself.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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