BARBARA Kamba-Nyathi (BKN) is a licensed psychologist who is also an author, and a volunteer at the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN).
Being passionate about what she does, Barbara considers her work a “mission” and not just a career.
In an interview with Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa, Barbara talks about her career, volunteering since 2009 and working closely with cancer patients.
MN: Give us a snapshot of who you are
BKN: My name is Barbara Kamba-Nyathi and I am very passionate about bringing emotional relief to those suffering from cancer and their families. I am also passionate about creating awareness about cancer and busting the many myths associated with the disease in our communities. I have been a volunteer at the Cancer Association of Namibia since 2009, and it has been an interesting, challenging, and above all, a fulfilling endeavour. My psychology background has made it possible for me to offer quality psychosocial support, and to take the burden away from those bearing the burden of cancer. As a cancer survivor, I do know how important psychosocial support is to one, and therefore I understand what it means to those affected by the cancer scourge.
MN: Briefly tell us about your upbringing. Would you say that played a role in who you are today?
BKN: I was raised by a mother, who was a giver; she gave so much of herself to others. She would feed the hungry, give clothes to those without them, and people came to talk to her about their problems. I guess it was ingrained in me, and when I grew up, I also found it normal to volunteer my services and time, to those affected and suffering from cancer. It was modelled in me in my childhood, how to take care of others, and how we are blessed in order to bless others. I grew up in the City of Kings, Bulawayo, where the spirit of Ubuntu was the norm, and hence my desire to spread that spirit, which makes us true Africans. We were taught to be each other’s keepers and that still resonates with me today.
MN: What triggered your interest in psychological volunteering?
BKN: It is a funny story, really. One day after being seriously burnt by the Namibian sun I was looking for the Cancer Association to get sunscreen, because I was convinced the sunburn I had suffered was cancer level, not just normal sunburn. So when I walked into the Cancer Association, I was warmly greeted by Martha, and we started talking about everything from sunburn, to cancer and what they do there. In that instant, I knew I wanted to be a volunteer there; immediately I was introduced to the CEO, who was also welcoming, and she invited me to her office to further discuss how I can bring in the psychosocial support aspect to the team of volunteers. Two hours later, I left the Cancer Association armed with my sunscreen and as a volunteer to be, because I still needed to be trained officially, given that earlier I had zero knowledge of cancer.
MN: Tell us a bit about your education and early days as a volunteer?
BKN: I went to Mpopoma High School where I was a very active member of the Interact Club; already you can see how I have always been a people person. My easygoing nature and love for people made it possible for me to interact with patients easily, despite not having gone through cancer like the rest of the volunteers at the time. It was a huge learning curve for me, because so much was made clear, and I knew my life would never be the same. While I thought I was there to help the patients, it turned out they were helping me too, because later in the year I was also diagnosed with cervical cancer, and I must say, I began to understand so much.
MN: Is there a stigma around people seeking psychological help, and what can be done to combat the perception that those who seek help are mentally unstable?
BKN: Of course there is stigma, and it gets worse when it is combined with a lack of knowledge about what cancer is, as well as the different types of cancers, and what they are not. I am working with a fantastic team of fellow oncology-psychologists, in a bid to raise the awareness and importance of psychosocial support for the patients and their families. We sincerely hope this will also spread to me communities at large. Women are usually forthcoming and receptive to our interventions, but we are working towards including men, as well. After all, this is everyone’s fight; not an individual’s or an organisation’s fight.
MN: Tell us about the kind of treatment options you expose them to?
BKN: I am also a certified Gestalt and Play therapist, which means that I do not only sit and talk to the people, but we also do role-play, using props. This is essential, especially when they have to comprehend and grasp how the psychosocial aspect is a practical and adoptable shift of looking at cancer, and helping them cope more positively with the illness. When people can relate what they are learning to their everyday life, it gives them the strength to fight the cancer, without relegating themselves to defeat.
MN: Would you say that the black population is averse to being treated by psychologists and other experts in the psychiatrist field, if yes, why is this so?
BKN: Maybe in the past it was an issue for the black community to frown upon psychologists. But because cancer does not discriminate, and it affects all races equally, this has been dispelled, and all people will accept help, if it will ease the burden of dealing with such a life-threatening disease. People are thirsty for knowledge and support, in caring for their loved ones, and thus all forms of help are appreciated. Besides it is crucial for them to have a save, non-judgmental haven to express their fears and concerns. This makes the family support centre at the Cancer Association the place to be, for everyone’s psychosocial needs.
MN: How would you encourage more young people to consider volunteering?
BKN: Change starts with you, and you should be the change you want. There is a fulfilment in helping others, and it makes our society a better place. Like I said earlier, cancer does not discriminate, it affects everyone, regardless of gender, age, race or whatever we may think makes us different from the next person. So it is important to have people of all walks of life coming together, and holding hands, in the fight against cancer.
MN: What, if any, impact does the experiences related by your patients have on you personally?
BKN: I am deeply touched by every patient I see, and this has led to the formation of the support group for parents of children with cancer. I have felt a deep yearning to do more than just psychosocial support, but to also help these parents with dealing with their situations. Often times, they have to leave behind the rest of their families for months, to bring the sick child to Windhoek for treatment. This may lead to the breaking of the family unit, or causing a huge strain on the family relations.
MN: What is your secret indulgence?
BKN: I cannot say it’s a secret, but I love ice cream, cheese cake and white chocolate.
MN: Just what do you do for a little fun?
BKN: Keeping fit is one of my passions, so I run and do CrossFit. I also love reading novels and watching comedies. This year I discovered that I am an author; one of the books is already published and the other one is coming out in a month or two.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015