Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, Director of the St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School, a school in Uganda that trains and educates girls and women victimized by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a terroristic group led by Joseph Kony responsible for committing atrocities in Uganda, spoke at the annual Catholic Press Association Conference in Buffalo, New York this past June.
Sister Rosemary’s book, Sewing Hope, chronicles her work at the school, which has trained and educated over 2,000 girls and women, along with their children, in a unique setting that both honors the women’s dignity by providing much-needed training, and by developing a support system – a community that is both safe and nurturing for them to learn a trade so they can be self-sufficient, while also learning how to care for and nurture their own children.
In most cases, these women were raised to be child soldiers by the LRA or used as sex slaves, raped and physically and psychologically abused. The women were rejected by their communities, and in many instances, rejected their own children because of the trauma by which they were brought into the world.
St. Monica’s school embraces these women, enveloping them in a net of safety, dignity, and love that gives them a place to first heal, and then blossom into self-sufficient, loving women and mothers.
I spoke with Sister Rosemary during one of the lunches at the CPA conference. I shyly approached Sister, but she put me at ease instantly. She was holding her phone with one hand, and waving the other animatedly while dancing in her seat. Her smile captured my heart long before I got close enough to hear the Alur music blaring from her phone.
“Do you know this music?” she asked me, not expecting my positive response.
“Of course,” I said, as I danced around her. That seemed to delight her more. I explained that I’m from the Caribbean and our music shares those rhythms.
After a little giggling and some more music and dancing, we settled into a comfortable conversation about her efforts to educate as many people as possible about the plight of the women in her care and St. Monica’s efforts to provide healing and hope. I noted immediately that Sister does not focus on the women’s victimization, but rather their dignity.
Sister Rosemary’s dancing eyes and smiling face have seen much, I’m sure, but she radiates such love for the women she speaks for that I’m sure her source of energy comes directly from He who is Love. She loves the women deeply. Broadly. And fiercely. You better believe that last one.
St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School has been around for 15 years, but I only became aware of this last year through the #bringbackourgirls media storm that brought attention to violence against women in Nigeria. Although Sister Rosemary’s efforts support girls and women in Uganda and parts of Sudan, as a humanitarian and spokeswoman against this kind of violence, her appearance in the media eventually caught my attention.
She was the nun who threatened to punch Stephen Colbert!
I laughed when I recognized her. And then I remembered what she had to say. In that charming interview with Colbert, she suggested something that shook me: If we don’t care about what’s happening in other parts of the world, which is also humanity, then we are lost ourselves.
I love her. I love her serious appeals to our understanding of our shared humanity with persons suffering, no matter how far away they live. And I love that she exudes life and love and joy as she focuses on the positive gifts at St. Monica’s, especially with the initiatives that are helping the women in practical ways.
The Pop Tab Purse Project at Sisters United teaches women marketable skills such as sewing and tailoring and gives them a venue for selling their work to support themselves. Sister Rosemary emphasizes that the women are not victims if they accept the opportunity for growth to become victorious. She does not want them to expect handouts or become dependent upon charity. On the contrary, she wants the women to feel empowered, capable of taking care of themselves and their children.
The Pop Tab Project uses soda can discards, the pop tabs, and turns them into useable, and very attractive, purses and other wearable fashion. In fact, Sister Rosemary quite happily modeled her own green pop tab purse for me.
Sister Rosemary explains that through their work at Sisters United, the women turn “trash into treasure” and more importantly, with this success, turn “trauma into triumph” for themselves.
If you would like to support Sister Rosemary’s life-changing ministry, purchase the beautiful purses and fashion accessories at SistersUnited.com. You can also support Sisters United’s efforts by sending in your pop tabs.
Copyright 2015 Maria Johnson.
Photo 1 copyright 2015 Maria Scaperlanda. All rights reserved.
Photo 2 copyright 2015 Maria Johnson. All rights reserved.