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Profiles in Compassion: Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe

October 13, 2014

Headshot_sister-rosemary-nyirumbeRecently, I attended a screening of the documentary "Sewing Hope," an hour-long film about the efforts of Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe, a Catholic nun living in Uganda, to help girls and young women abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia led by Joseph Kony that was the subject of the viral "Invisible Children" campaign in 2012.

Narrated by the actor Forrest Whitaker, the film grabs you from the first frame. In harrowing detail, it describes how girls from rural villages were abducted from their homes and forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence against their own family members in order to prove their loyalty to the LRA. Many of the girls were raped and tortured, with Kony himself responsible for dozens if not hundreds of rapes, and many became pregnant and ended up bearing children. Girls that were able to escape often found themselves ostracized by family members and friends who viewed them as damaged goods.

Hearing about these girls, Sister Rosemary, the director since 2001 of the Saint Monica's Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, and one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People for 2014, realized she had to do something. Before long, she had opened doors of the center to as many of these girls as she could find and set about teaching them how to sew and make dresses, handbags, and other goods, imparting skills that can help them provide for themselves and secure a desperately needed measure of independence. Displaced children were placed in school and given a new lease on life, away from the horrors of Kony's atrocities.

Sister Rosemary has since opened a second school in Atiak and has plans to open a third in Torit, in South Sudan, with the help of Pros for Africa, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma City that has thrown its full support behind her. One result of that support is Sisters United, LLC, a for-profit business created to market the goods made by the girls Sister Rosemary has taken in and raise awareness of her work.

Maybe the best part of the evening was the fact that Sister Rosemary herself joined us for the screening. Belive me when I tell you it was an unforgettable experience to be in the same room with this amazing woman. I mean, I could literally feel the goodness emanating from her, and the humble yet moving way she described what she was doing had members of the audience members hanging on her every word. I had the good fortune to speak with her for a moment after her remarks, and she seemed genuinely delighted when I told her I'd do everything I could to spread her message and the details of her inspiring work. 

If ever a person embodied the concept of "philanthropy" as caritas, kindness and compassion toward others, it is Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe. But don't take my word for it. Set aside an hour or two of your time to watch "Sewing Hope," which can be viewed for free through the Snag Films website, and see for yourself why her movement is so deserving of our attention and support.

– Terrence Aybar is a member of the Data Acquisition and Architecture team at Foundation Center.

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