Dr. Helena Ndume

Dr. Helena Ndume, a Namibian eye surgeon affiliated with Santa Barbara nonprofit SEE International, has been named one of two recipients of the first-ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize, thanks to a nomination from SEE.

The UN General Assembly created the award to commemorate Mandela’s “legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation,” according to Assembly President Sam Kutesa. Every five years, one male and one female nominee will be chosen as recipients for their humanitarian service in various parts of the world.

Ndume will receive the honor for her efforts to treat blindness and eye-related diseases in Namibia and other developing countries. According to SEE, she has performed 30,000 pro bono surgeries within Namibia alone. This summer, she will collaborate with SEE on three different programs in Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization expects 700 patients to regain their eyesight during the three-week course of the programs.

Struggle is familiar to Ndume, who fled her homeland at 15 and lived in Zambia, Gambia, and Angola before she graduated from the University of Leipzig Medical School in Germany. Memories of the civil unrest she witnessed as a child compel her to help those in need the best way she knows how. She doesn’t mind doing the work for free because “there’s no money in this world that can pay for the joy” she sees in the eyes of a patient who has suddenly regained his or her sight.

The award ceremony will take place at UN Headquarters on July 24, which will coincide with the annual observance of International Nelson Mandela Day.


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