Windhoek — This prolific woman may not be known to many Namibians, yet she played a leading role in establishing the current second largest hospital in the northern part of the country, the Onandjokwe hospital.
Dr Selma Rainio is noted to have been a daughter of a clergyman born in SaarijÓ“rvi in Finland. At a very young age she started doing Finnish missionary work, whilst at the same time pursuing studies in medicine. This was at the time when the Finnish Mission Society was beginning to undertake mission work in Namibia.
Narrating the beginning of Finnish missionary work in Namibia at the centenary commemoration of the Onandjokwe hospital, Professor Filemon Amaambo noted that "the first Finnish missionaries arrived in Ondonga in 1870 and soon realised the pressing need for a trained health professional to deal with illness affecting the community".
This eventually culminated in the establishment of the first health clinic "at Onayena in 1902 and in 1908, the Finnish Mission Society sent Dr Selma Rainio".
Amaambo noted that upon Rainio's arrival at Oniipa "she was allocated a piece of land, Onandjokwe, by the Ondonga King Martin Kadhikwa for the purpose of establishing a hospital and to conduct training. Construction started after a short while and the first hospital in the northern regions was officially opened in July 1911."
Also giving insight on the role played by Rainio in the medical history of Namibia, are Buys and Nambala who in their publication entitled History of the Church in Namibia, 1805 - 1999: An introduction, cite that "in 1908 the medical work of the Finnish mission reached a professional level, when missionary Dr Selma Rainio arrived as the first permanent medical doctor in the north. Very soon she was treating forty patients per day." They added that her arrival was followed by the erection of the Onandjokwe Finnish Mission hospital near Oniipa. She is indeed the mother of Onandjokwe hospital.
In spearheading the establishment of the Onandjokwe hospital, Rainio continued to contribute to the further development of the hospital. She extended the building facilities and established a medical training facility to train the locals in nursing. This is perhaps best reaffirmed by the publication by Buys and Nambala, which cites that "Dr Rainio was instrumental in establishing a training school for auxiliary nurses at Onandjokwe in 1930."
Buys and Nambala further wrote that "the Onandjokwe hospital developed steadily through the years and Dr Rainio spent many years of hard work at Onandjokwe (28 years), before she left in 1936 for a less arduous post at Engela."
Buys and Nambala also note that just before she left for Engela, the Onandjokwe hospital already had "17 large buildings, 49 large huts and 15 open-air sheds, serving as shelter for visiting relatives".
However, it was not an easy road for Dr Rainio to succeed in establishing a westernised medical facility in the north. Before the hospital was established, local people were only used to spiritual and other forms of traditional healing, hence the introduction of western medicine had been challenged by these forms of healing.
One of the biographical sources on the life of Dr Rainio cites that "professionally the young doctor was isolated, with her nearest colleague working hundreds of kilometers away in Hereroland. Her work was heavy and she had to contend not only with the epidemics but also superstition and witch-doctors".
Despite all odds, Dr Rainio carried out her work cheerfully and with determination and dynamism. In appreciation of her support the local people began referring to her as "Kuku gwaNandjokwe", the grandmother of Onandjokwe.
In fact, some of the collections on Dr Rainio's life argue that it was due to her tireless and invaluable support of the local community that many female children in the former Ovamboland were christened with the name, Selma.
She contracted malaria in 1912 and suffered severe relapses.
In 1932, she left to join her family in Finland. She later returned to Namibia and died at Onandjokwe in January 1939.