What is your life’s purpose?
To bring the gift of sight to vulnerable and disadvantaged people worldwide.
How are you living your purpose?
Every year, I perform sight-restoring surgeries on thousands of blind and sight-impaired men, women, and children, all free of charge to the patient. Over the past three decades, I have performed over 35,000 sight-restoring surgeries.
Blindness is closely linked with extreme poverty. When a father or mother goes blind, he or she may no longer be able to work and provide for the family. When a child goes blind, he or she may no longer be able to go to school and receive an education. When a grandparent goes blind, he or she may need constant care from younger family members. In our developing world, being able to see can often make a difference between surviving and starving. I am fortunate to be able to contribute in a small way toward making people’s lives a little better. Avoidable blindness is a tragic epidemic with far greater repercussions than many realize. According to the World Health Organization, up to 80% of all cases of blindness could be easily prevented or treated, if the individuals only had access to vision care.
I work with SEE International, a wonderful nonprofit organization that connects traveling volunteer doctors to clinics in need. They also provide critical supplies and technology that allow doctors like me to continue to perform eye surgeries, free of charge to the patient. I could not have accomplished so many surgeries without their help.
The tears of joy from the patients after an operation are priceless! Their expressions fuel and recharge me to continue serving not only the Namibian people but all of humanity. What is humbling and rewarding is what the patients tell us they are looking forward to, now that they can see again:
“I will be able to see my baby for the first time”
“Now I will be able to work in the field and toil for myself”
“No one will be able to cheat me out of my pension money anymore”
How did you find your purpose?
My early life living under apartheid, then escaping Namibia as a refugee, greatly informed my decision to pursue ophthalmology. As a teenager, my dream career was to become a fashion designer. But when I said this to Mr. Nahas Angula—at the time the SWAPO Party of Namibia’s Secretary for Education, who went on to become Namibia’s Prime Minister—he told me straight to my face that “independent Namibia will need medical doctors and not fashion designers.”
I shared this episode with Dr. Libertina Amadhila (then Namibia’s only female physician), who told me that she agreed with Mr. Angula and would not take no for an answer. She immediately recommended that I be sent to the University of Leipzig to study medicine. Looking back, I am glad that I listened to their wise advice, and I remain forever grateful for their guidance. Dr. Amadhila has been my mentor and an enduring inspiration, both professionally and academically.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Find a nonprofit or other humanitarian organization that shares your values and volunteer with them. We must create a culture of generosity, of giving back to those less fortunate than we are.
Take a look at these inspirational resources:
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
The United Nations
Dr. Helena Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist who is internationally renowned for her humanitarian work. To date, she has performed sight-restoring surgeries upon 35,000 Namibians, completely free of charge. “There’s no money in this world that can pay the joy of someone who was so blind for so many years and then suddenly they regain their vision,” she says.
Dr. Ndume’s motivation to serve those less fortunate than her stems from the civil unrest that she witnessed as a child. Forced to flee her homeland at the age of 15, Helena lived in Zambia, Gambia (where she completed secondary school), and Angola, before attending medical school in Germany. She joined SEE International’s roster of over 600 volunteer eye surgeons in 1995.
Since then, Dr. Ndume has dedicated her life and career to treating blindness and low-vision, both in Namibia and throughout the developing world. Many of her patients in the capital city of Windhoek have taken to calling her “Namibia’s miracle doctor.” In 2004, she was awarded Grand Commander of the Order of Namibia, First Class. In 2011, CNN produced a piece on her work, which can be accessed here.
“She is inexhaustible,” says Dr. Michael Colvard of SEE. “She is an incredible physician, very capable but also able to motivate people and she’s been able to get the government of Namibia to support her and her colleagues.”