Windhoek — She is the eyes and the hope of the elderly, especially those that are thought to be blind, while they are in fact affected by cataracts. Cataracts are a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively cloudy - resulting in blurred vision.
Dr. Helen Ndume and a team of other foreign eye specialists have over the past several years conducted numerous eye clinics mostly in rural areas where up to 10 000 elderly Namibians have benefited without paying a single cent.
Dr. Ndume (52) was born and raised in Tsumeb. Growing up in the colonial era, and at a time when most Namibian were leaving the country to join the liberation struggle, she left the country at the tender age of just 15 in 1975.
She and others lived in Angola before leaving for Zambia where she attended school in SWAPO camps. In 1976 Dr. Ndume went to the Gambia, where she lived for five years and completed her secondary school education.
"After I completed secondary school I came back to Angola and worked in the SWAPO transport and logistics department for one year," she said. After that short spell at the SWAPO department of transport and logistics, she moved to Germany to study medicine.
"Medicine was actually my second choice. My first choice was fashion design," Dr. Ndume who still has passion for fashion said.
But, she couldn't do it, because Nahas Angula, now the Prime Minister advised her to study medicine, since Namibia "does not need fashion designers".
She completed her medical degree in 1989, and upon her return to Namibia did an internship at the Katutura and Central State hospitals. After a year, she went back to Germany to specialise in Ophthalmology for four years.
Upon completion of her degree in Ophthalmology, Dr. Ndume did eye work in India to familiarise herself with eye diseases that affect people in tropical countries. She returned to Namibia, and started working in the Central State Hospital's eye clinic and started with a blindness prevention program known as the Eye Camp, removing cataracts from completely blind or partially blind people.
The first Eye Camp opened in 1997 in Rundu, and since then the eye camps have been to various parts of the country. According to her estimation, the eye camps have helped around 10 000 Namibians, mostly the elderly.
"I work with a very large team of volunteers, I cannot tell you exactly how many. But it is a large team," she said.
She further said cataracts is caused mainly by ageing. "As you get older, the eye lens gets cloudy, and if one does not get help soon, you can become totally blind," she said, adding that blindness caused by cataracts is preventable.
"The success of this programme speaks for itself. Old people who were completely blind are able to see again. The program is also reducing the [financial] burden on government."
Despite the successes, the programme is faced with the challenge of trained personnel.
"We have to give back to the community, as we were given. We cannot let people go blind; they don't apply to be blind. I want to thank SWAPO for giving me an education, and the others that make this programme the success it is today. I want to thank Flashman Anyolo - he is the 'jack of all trades', he is the backbone of this programme. We started it together," she said in praise of her colleague. Dr. Ndume is married, and has one son.