“I am a dreamer and having a dream is sometimes challenging,
but I never look at a situation as too difficult.”
— Sister Rosemary
“She is an extremely affable and compassionate personality who will go out of her way to help no matter what. She radiates with energy and iron determination.”
Northern Uganda had suffered from civil unrest since the early 1980s. Hundreds of people were killed in the rebellion against the Ugandan government, and an estimated 400-thousand people were left homeless. Uganda’s military battled the two main rebel groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Thousands of children fell victim to the war, abducted by both the LRA and the ADF to serve as fighters, porters, and in the case of girls, fighters and sex slaves.
“We can still walk in hope.” -Sister Rosemary
Observing her as a child, her family always knew she would be a leader of children when she became a adult.
We do what we do, what we do best. [For good or evil]
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, Healer Idealist, of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus based in Juba, South Sudan, has answered the call to serve the least among us from the epicenter of a bloody and violent civil wars that decimated northern Uganda and South Sudan.
The spunky, 5-foot-tall Nyirumbe was born in Paidha, Uganda, and joined the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus convent in Moyo, Uganda, in 1972 at age 15. She became a midwife and surgical assistant. But she had no idea what was waiting for her when in 2001 her superiors sent her to try to revive the run-down St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center in Gulu.
Armed with only a sewing machine, Sister Rosemary defied Joseph Kony and the rebel soldiers and commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in their 20-year reign of terror. Since 2002, Sister Rosemary has enrolled more than 2,000 girls who had been previously abducted by the LRA or abandoned by their families.
Healers present a calm and serene face to the world, and can seem shy, even distant around others. But inside they’re anything but serene, having a capacity for personal caring rarely found in the other types. Healers care deeply about the inner life of a few special persons, or about a favorite cause in the world at large. And their great passion is to heal the conflicts that trouble individuals, or that divide groups, and thus to bring wholeness, or health, to themselves, their loved ones, and their community.
Healers have a profound sense of idealism that comes from a strong personal sense of right and wrong. They conceive of the world as an ethical, honorable place, full of wondrous possibilities and potential goods. In fact, to understand Healers, we must understand that their deep commitment to the positive and the good is almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. [Please Understand Me II]
Anyone who steps foot on the grounds of the Saint Monica campus in Gulu, Uganda, will instantly recognize there are few other places on earth where a community of women learn to become self-reliant and change agents for peace and prosperity. Sister Rosemary has taught these brave girls to make their own clothes, grow their own food, learn a valuable trade, and show mercy to others that are less fortunate.
Sister Rosemary was tasked to take over the abandoned Saint Monica campus during the conflict. As a teacher she listened carefully and students naturally opened up to her.
One girl seemed desperately lonely and refused to make eye contact with Nyirumbe, the other teachers, or her fellow students. When Nyirumbe gently questioned her, the student made a stunning confession: She had been forced to serve as a soldier in Kony’s army and commit barbaric acts against her own people.
“That was the first time I realized there were girls who came from the bush in this school,” Nyirumbe recalls. “She needed something more practical that she could do.”
In 2002, after securing funds to purchase a few foot-pedal-powered sewing machines, Nyirumbe introduced a sewing class; 10 of the 30 girls signed up. All 10 had escaped from Kony’s army. Now considered defiled and dangerous, they had been shunned, sometimes even by their own families, when they tried to return to their villages. They had nowhere else to go.
Without knowing how she would pay for it all, Nyirumbe made an announcement on the radio inviting all former Kony captives to come to St. Monica’s for refuge and training. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up. Nyirumbe and the other sisters established a day-care center for the newcomers’ children. Funding trickled in from nonprofit organizations.
“My real goal,” Nyirumbe says, “was to reach out to these women who were deeply traumatized, who lost their chances of education, and try to bring them to a situation where they could accept and forgive themselves.”
After seeing how the tailoring class boosted the girls’ self-esteem, Nyirumbe also taught them how to cater local events and how to create jewelry from tightly rolled, lacquered magazine pages.
In 2012, she cofounded a for-profit business, Sisters United, to “empower women one stitch at a time.” The students spend many after-school hours making purses from yarn and tabs pulled from discarded aluminum cans. The young women earn cash for their work.
The traumas she heals are unfathomable,
but the reach of her love is boundless.
— Forest Whitaker
Nyirumbe hopes to someday open a gas station and restaurant operated by her students. A second school she helped launch in Atiak, Uganda, is struggling and could benefit from an expanded health-care clinic.