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Article by: Sgt Tebogo Kekana, Photographs: courtesy of Blue Kunene Photography

WO1 Christian Avendano, representing the German Armed Forces Technical Advisory Group that funded the set-up of the Mobile Field Clinic in Opuwo two years ago interacted with the patients queuing under the scorching sun waiting for their turn to see the military health practitioners. “There is a need for this hospital, if the patients are getting proper treatment, we are happy, we are all human beings and we all deserve to live healthy, quality lifestyles.” The dusty town responded to the call by Exercise Blue Kunene which is aimed at building regional medical capability that will eventually strengthen the African Standby Force.

Walking around and speaking to the patients, they related how they walked long kilometers to access military medical outreach programmes that includes screening and treatment of various ailments that the locals present with. People from all walks of life relied on the Red Cross interpreters to explain to the SADC medical team what they are suffering from, and most, presented with dental issues.

Speaking to Lt Col Mills and her team pointed out that they have performed many extractions on most patients. “As oral hygienists, dentists and, together with our Zimbabwean counterparts, we learn a lot about the diversity of out cultures. The indigenous knowledge that they possess is something to embrace and celebrate. Their patience, and love for their culture is a marvel to witness.”

I relied on Mwenjo Fredericks, a 27 year old Constable at Opuwo Police Station for interpretation. He facilitated my conversation with Josephine Munetjiwawo who accompanied her mom to the Mobile Field Clinic as she is experiencing chest pains and has eyes problem. “We are from across the mountain, we are the Himba people and are very proud to see so many soldiers coming to care for our sick. When I grow up, I want to become a nurse and do the same.”

The Constable shared that many people in their area suffer from high blood pressure that could be attributed to the heat, and a recurring cough. “My people are very appreciative of what the Exercise Blue Kunene is doing, the fact that they want to see us cured, means that they care about us deeply. I also consulted the South African Dr in there, I told him my problem and we began chatting about Kaizer Chiefs Football Team, when I left there, I felt confident to go and get my scans and proceed to the hospital. The health awareness that was presented here, today, will stay with me for the rest of my life, please thank your Exercise seniors for me.”

Among those who came to see how best they can be medically assisted, were the Zembas and the Hereros dressed in their everyday colourful dresses which they claim, tell stories of their status in the society. Capt Noluthando Sohaba, a South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) Oral Hygienist spoke passionately about the Exercise being her first experience saying, “We educated everyone about the importance of taking care of their teeth, furthermore, what impressed me was how receptive they were to that information, regardless of the language barriers. We didn’t come here to change their way of life, we came here as a SADC team, to show them other ways of leaving a healthy life. Thus far, we have attended to more than 200 patients and we are still to tackle the queue outside with the same zeal.


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