A scholar, leader, and director of St. Monica’s School in Gulu, Uganda since 2002, Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe has offered a safe haven to hundreds of refugee women and children who have suffered the trauma of civil war or abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Residents not only gradually rebuild their lives through learning cooking and dressmaking but also reclaim their dignity
Sister Rosemary brings hope to the hopeless and heals the wounds of war, and for this, she was honored at this year’s Starkey Hearing Foundation “So the World May Hear” Awards Gala. She adds the award to many distinctions, including 2007 CNN Hero of the Year and a recent Nobel Peace Prize nomination by Dr. Madeleine Albright. She extends to all of us the same hands-on learning that she offers her students at the missionary school—see and understand what needs to be done firsthand.
When did you first connect with Starkey Hearing Foundation?
Three or four years ago we came together as a team. The partnership and collaboration started with Pros for Africa, sending doctors, lawyers, volunteers, sisters, and athletes to Africa. It was a great moment to see all the different organizations coming together to support the work. Before then, I had no idea how many had experienced hearing loss.
Tell us about St. Monica’s, where you devote so much of your time and heart, and the students there.
The mothers are quite young. During the war, they were abducted by rebels. A lot of the girls feel anger and direct it toward their children, and the children are very innocent. When we take them in, we give them support. We help them. We become like mothers to them because we know very well that these young girls themselves have lost their own childhood. We find that in helping them and their children together, they begin to love their children and begin to care for them, and they take responsibility. The future of hope is there for them.
Have things improved as the violence subsides?
It's true that now there is relative peace. You can say the sound of the gun is now silent, but in the hearts of the girls, the sound of the gun is still going on. And we need to go on a journey with them; we need to work with them to understand the pain, which is going on in their hearts.
You view the prison next to the school as "an opportunity"?
We are helping women who are disadvantaged at St. Monica’s, and behind our wall there are also women and children who are disadvantaged who are being detained for many reasons. We go there and see how we can help these women. Now when we find the children are detained with their mothers, the children are sent to St. Monica’s. Then, I thought about the men—that we could support them, too. So we started giving them the skills we were offering at St. Monica’s. I personally went and taught them how to make these purses. [She shares with us a pop-top clutch.]
What are you doing to teach hearing care?
We value sustainability in all that’s being done. In order to have this sustainability, to see it going forward, our own people must get trained to identify infections, to treat them—not letting it go to the level of hearing loss. Then we have this problem, financially, with transport, to reach out to these people. The bottleneck is that our area coverage is so big, all the way up to South Sudan—we’ve started outreach. We’re moving ahead with the Foundation and with the help of other organizations . . . If you are not healthy, you cannot be educated; if you are not educated, you will not value health.
How is training being set up?
In South Sudan and North Uganda, the sisters are able to find people with hearing loss, and it’s important to open a corner of the school to children with hearing loss—to get help and continue with their education, and train them in sign language.
On the cusp of opening a new school, what does the future hold?
We want to see that we are benefiting disadvantaged people in the right way. We hope all of these organizations will continue working with us to inspire other organizations like Pros for Africa and Starkey Hearing Foundation. Then you can accomplish what you want to do. We want people to come and see what needs to be done, to make a difference in their own mind. I can tell them, but they can’t see all the details until they come look.
Sister Rosemary was originally interviewed by the authors for Starkey Hearing Foundation's "So the World May Hear" magazine.