Colchester High School for Girls is rated as one of the top academic schools in the country in the public sector. It regularly features in the top ten in national newspapers. It was here that Catherine blossomed. As well as achieving academically, she learnt the clarinet and gained a bronze and silver in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. She eagerly awaited her GCSE results which were faxed over to the family’s rented villa in France. She was not to be disappointed, gaining ten subjects at Grade A, four of those being A*. Two years later, she gained four A Levels all at Grade A. Throughout her school years, she concentrated on what needed to be done to achieve her results always focused on her goal, that of getting to university to train as a Doctor.
In October 1998, she went to Bristol University to begin her first year as a Medical student, staying for the first two years at Durdham Hall, halls of residence. Here she was to meet a fellow medical student who became her best friend. The friendship developed to the point that they could have been taken as twin sisters, and they supported each other through the highs and lows of their training. From Durdham Hall, they moved to a private hall of residence called ‘Unite House’ and then finally to a house share with four other medical students. On her visits home she would revise for her exams, setting herself a revision plan, which she would strictly adhere to. Once the exams were over, she would modestly say that she thought she had done okay. The results would always come back that she had done more than ‘okay’. There were times when she doubted herself, possibly because she set herself too high a standard. Her caring and friendly personality left a lasting impression on everyone she met and she showed a genuine concern for the environment and for those less fortunate then herself.
In the autumn 2001, she started to make plans for her elective placement in her fifth year, which was to gain medical experience in Africa. She left England on 9 August 2002, spending time in Dubai and South Africa, before going on a safari in Namibia. This was to have been followed by a placement in Zambia and then Tanzania. Finally, after a few days rest in Dar-es-Salaam she was to return home on 25 October 2002. It was to be the journey of a lifetime.
On 21 August 2002 she commenced the safari in Namibia with the first port of call being the Waterberg Plateau. The next day she complained of feeling ill, but seemed to recover that night. The following day she deteriorated and that evening it was decided to get her to a hospital. On the way her situation became critical and her companions stopped at a medical clinic at Oshivelo to seek help. However, it was too late and Catherine died on 23 August 2002 from severe gastro-enteritis.
Her family, her friends and the university staff were devastated by her death and many tributes were paid to her.
‘Catherine was one of our top students, she had
distinguished herself in many of the units of the course,
particularly the clinical ones. She was described by her
teachers as a gentle, quiet and caring person who had
excellent doctoring skills. We all feel a great loss over
a student who was destined to become one of our top doctors’
A plaque underneath a tree planted in her memory at the university has inscribed on it – ‘May her love for the study of medicine grow in the hearts she inspired.’
In July 2003, Catherine was posthumously awarded a Bachelor of Science degree.
One of her favourite quotations was from St Augustine.
‘Trust the past to the mercy of God
No pearly gates, or streets of gold,
This poem was written in memory of Catherine by her granddad, affectionately known to her as 'Opa' (German for granddad). It has been used by a number of our friends at the funeral of loved ones. If you would like to use it in the same circumstances, please do so. The poem's copyright is held by The Catherine Bullen Foundation and if used the trustees would appreciate a donation to the Foundation.
The Catherine Bullen Primary Healthcare Clinic
The story begins in July 2008, when Linda and Roger Bullen visited Namibia to open the clinic at Otjimanangombe. At the opening ceremony, Dr Richard Kamwi, the Minister of Health and Social Services announced that provision was to be made in the 2009 budget to build a large new Health Facility at Oshivelo to replace the small outdated clinic where Catherine died and would be named after her.
In October 2011, Linda and Roger had a meeting with the Permanent Health Secretary for an update on the situation and he advised that that the new clinic would be a large Health facility. During our visit in March 2012, they saw a request for tenders for the clinic in a national newspaper and they were told the following May, that a decision was still to be made on the tenders.
Nothing more was heard, until October 2013, when they spent some time in the Etosha National Park and on leaving mentioned that they were going to Oshivelo to lay some flowers for Catherine, as they do when they are in the area. On hearing this, the attendant at the gate said that they should go and have a look at the new clinic being built. Excited by this news they drove to the police station at Oshivelo to get permission to lay the flowers and they also told them about the new clinic. So off they went to have a look, and to their surprise, there was this large complex of buildings under construction.
On their return to Windhoek, they asked Komeho, to make enquiries their behalf regarding what was going on at Oshivelo. Their investigations turned up a letter that had been sent to them on 16 October 2012, but had never arrived. It advised that the clinic would comprise of twelve in-patient beds (six male and six female) and six casualty beds. It would have five consulting rooms and numerous specialist rooms Envisaged completion at the time was September 2013. In February 2014, they were forwarded a letter to advise that the clinic was nearing completion and would be called ‘The Catherine Bullen Primary Healthcare Clinic’. Seeing this brought it home to them that it was really happening.
So in March 2014, they visited the almost completed clinic again and back in Windhoek they visited the Dr Richard Kamwi, Minister of Health to thank him for keeping his promise and he told them to keep July free for the inauguration. On 6 June, they received a letter from the Minister advising that the inauguration would take place on 16 July 2014.
This is Linda and Roger's account of the opening - ‘so on Wednesday 16 July at 05.30 am we found ourselves in the reception at the Minen Hotel in Tsumeb where we had stayed the previous night. With us were Rev Noleen West and her husband Robert, Gertrude Kavaca, the cleaner from our clinic at Otjimanangombe, Mrs Nelago Kasuto, Managing Director of Komeho and Mr Negumbo, the Chairman of Komeho. We left the hotel at around 06.00 am in the cold half light of a Namibian winter's morning with temperatures barely above freezing. As we drive out of Tsumeb, we pass the winding gear of what used to be a copper mine, now no longer in use. The town is now known for its smelter which converts ore from all over the continent and beyond. We join the B1, the main road to the north, with scrub and bush either side. Soon we come upon Lake Otjikoto, a deep limestone sinkhole, here in 1915, the retreating German army dumped weaponry and ammunition into the lake to prevent it falling into South African hands. Over the years, divers have brought field guns and ammunition wagons to the surface for display in museums. An hour into our journey, we pass the turning to Namutoni in the Etosha National Park and a sign with 'Oshivelo 23 kms'. Soon we approach Oshivelo with its informal settlement of shacks on the left as we approach a police checkpoint on what is known as the 'Red Line'. This is a veterinary fence that separates the commercial cattle ranches of the south from the communal subsistence lands to the north as a precaution against disease. Today traffic is light, and the police wave us through. As we pass we see the police station and beside it the old clinic where Catherine died. Our eyes catch a covered up road sign, with the letters 'CA' visible, for a moment our hearts miss a beat - a road sign with Catherine’s name on it! After the sign we turned right and passed the service station, a builder's warehouse and there we were in front of the clinic. A large marquee had been erected in it grounds facing the front door where the top table had been placed. But where was everybody? The programme advised that guests, the media and the community should arrive between 07.30 and 08.00, but we were the only ones here, accept for those cooking the food. But then this is Africa and everyone works to Africa time.
Left: The Catherine Bullen Primary Healthcare Clinic. Oshivelo.
One of the largest clinics in Namibia.
With us all having taken up our positions at the top table, proceedings began with the singing of the African Union and Namibian National Anthems followed by a prayer by Rev. J Haneb. We were then entertained by children from the local school performing a traditional dance.
Afterwards a representative from the Guinas Constituency welcomed everybody and introduced a second traditional dance performance. Then it was my turn to make my speech, full of mixed emotions of joy and sadness, I composed myself to deliver what will probably be the most challenging thing I have had to do since Catherine’s death. I managed to get through it with a couple of wobbly moments concluding by thanking the Namibian government and the people of the Oshikoto region for naming the clinic after Catherine, in recognition of her continuing legacy to the Namibian people through the Foundation’s work. I told the assembled audience that Catherine was described as a caring, compassionate person who was destined to become an outstanding doctor in the UK. I hoped that this impressive clinic will become a centre of excellence and an example to other clinics in Namibia.
The Rev Noleen West, who with her husband Robert have been dear friends since we first visited Namibia in 2003, when they accompanied us to carry out a small memorial service at the old Oshivelo clinic. Today, twelve years later they repeated that journey and Noleen led those present in prayer.
It was then time for the Minister of Health and Social Services, the Hon. Dr Richard Kamwi to make his speech after being introduced by the Governor, Hon Penda Ya Ndakolo. In his speech he said that the clinic had been built by the government at a cost of £1,110,000 to serve the local community and travellers such as Catherine. He thanked the Bullens for their support with the many projects that they had carried out in the Omaheke region under the auspices of the Catherine Bullen Foundation, including a clinic at Otjimanangombe, refurbishment of the dormitories and the construction of a kitchen at Omuhaturua Primary School Hostel, and most recently the provision of a dormitory at Eiseb Primary School Hostel, all at a total cost of £300,000.
A vote of thanks by the Oshivelo Headman, Mr Nation Nashikaku, was followed by a closing prayer from Rev J Haneb and the singing of the two anthems. It was then time to unveil the plaque on the front of the clinic and cut the ribbon.
The final task of the day was to go to the main road and unveil the two huge road signs proclaiming Catherine’s clinic to those travelling the road in both directions. So ended an emotional and memorable day.
The clinic inauguration was reported on Namibian TV News, radio and the national press. In the UK in the Bristol Post, East Anglian Daily Times, and the Gazette and it also featured on BBC Look East.
The Bristol Post commented, 'Despite her tragic early death Catherine will always be remembered. Thanks to her parent’s fundraising and the Namibian Government who have named a health clinic after her. Tragically she never lived to become the brilliant doctor her tutors at Bristol University envisaged. But how fitting that her name will now be forever associated with caring people and saving lives'.
Left: The casualty ward. Right: The ambulance station.
The team from the Regional Ministry of Health accompanied by the Governor Hon. Penda Ya Ndakolo (extreme right), the Regional Director of Health, Mr Peter Angala beside him and Linda and Roger unveil the sign to the clinic.
The Catherine Bullen Foundation