“IT’S an honour to receive such recognition for my impact as a humanitarian ophthalmologist. I am humbled as I extend gratitude and appreciation to the Lions Club.”
These were the words of the internationally renowned Namibian ophthalmologist, doctor Helena Ndume, after receiving a humanitarian award at the 104th Lions Club’s Humanitarian International Convention awards in Montreal, Canada, last week.
Ndume’s nomination was announced by the Lions Clubs International in March.
Part of the money will be ploughed back into her programme to fight preventable blindness in Namibia, said Ndume.
Ndume said it’s easy to overlook the importance of sight when one has perfect vision, however, in the developing world, being able to see can often mean the difference between surviving and starving.
“When one has no sight, you are likely to miss out on some opportunities in life. It is for these reasons that I feel privileged to be able to do the work I do.
“There is nothing greater in the world than witnessing the happiness of a person who was once blind, as they regain their vision,” Ndume said.
She said the award will further inspire her to continue her mission of transforming lives with the gift of sight.
“I will continue striving to build a team of committed young men and women that will carry on this mission and fight for this cause as restlessly as I have. I hope to inspire others to act on their passions and understand that they too can make a difference in the world.”
She said the award is a result of the teamwork of the national prevention of preventable blindness programme, with support from the Namibian government, as well as national and international organisations.
Ndume dedicated the award to all those who have and continue to be involved in humanitarian eye care work in Namibia, and said the work of her fellow nominees also deserves recognition.
“I would further like to encourage you to work harder in the corner of the world where you are, to make the world a better place for the most vulnerable members of society.”
“Coming from humble beginnings at my hometown Tsumeb in the northern part of Namibia, it is with gratitude and passion that I can spend my life building the health of my country,” she said.
At the age of 15, like many Namibians, Ndume fled the country during the apartheid era to escape violence, imprisonment, torture and the inferior Bantu education on offer.
“I took refuge with the South West Africa People’s Organisation, (Swapo) in Zambia, settling in Swapo’s health and education refugee centre to continue my education,” she said.
Ndume extended her gratitude to former deputy prime minister Dr Libertina Amathila, who was the only Namibian female physician in the Swapo refugee centres before the country’s independence.
Amathila advised Ndume to take the same career path.
“Looking back, I am glad I listened to her advice. I will forever be grateful for her guidance.
“Dr Amathila has been my mentor, a mother figure and an enduring inspiration, both professionally and academically.”
Over the 25 years that Ndume has worked as a humanitarian ophthalmologist, she has found great success in her work to provide essential eye care to those in need. She has also built an invaluable partnership with Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE), an international non-profit humanitarian organisation in California, which through donors and volunteer medical teams helped restore the sight of over 35 million people.
“I have seen the overwhelming need for eye care across the world and have made it my life’s mission to contribute to the efforts of eradicating the epidemic of preventable blindness, at the very least in my home country, Namibia.”
Ndume has received over 13 awards throughout her medical career, the first of which was the Lions International award, in recognition of her efforts in the Lions Operation Brightsight project in 1999.