Duquesne awards honorary doctorate to compassionate Ugandan school leader
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe was unafraid when she took over a school for young women and girls in civil war-ravaged Uganda in 2001, she said.
For many, the school was their only chance at life as the war raged.
They were displaced former child soldiers and sex slaves forced into service by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which waged war against the government and villages for more than two decades.
“No, I wasn’t afraid. This program is just (in) great demand,” said Nyirumbe, 59.
As part of its Founders Week 2015, Duquesne University recognized Nyirumbe’s work by conferring an honorary doctor of humane letters to her Thursday.
Nyirumbe serves God by serving students, so that they, in turn, serve others, said the Rev. Raymond French, vice president for mission and identity at Duquesne, a Catholic university. Education is a vehicle out of poverty, he said.
“Rosemary already has a Ph.D. in love, a Ph.D. in compassion,” French said. “She’s an inspiration. She brings hope in the midst of despair.”
Nyirumbe is the director of the St. Monica’s Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda, which provides literacy education, vocational training and health care to young women and girls, some of whom are mothers.
The school has helped about 1,400 women and girls. Nyirumbe started a similar school in nearby Atiak, Uganda, about three years ago, and a third is under construction in Torit, South Sudan.
“Practical skills is something restoring the dignity of these women,” Nyirumbe said.
Named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 Most Influential People of 2014, Nyirumbe also is the subject of a 2013 documentary, “Sewing Hope,” and a book of the same name chronicling her work at the school. Book sales help support St. Monica’s.
Nyirumbe joined the Catholic Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1976. She graduated with a master’s degree in community leadership from Duquesne’s campus in Rome in 2011.
Uganda’s civil war is over, but life remains difficult for children in the East African country, especially for girls because there are fewer opportunities for them, Nyirumbe said.
“Many parents prefer to send their boys to study,” she said.
The girls at the school suffered physical and mental abuse from rebels at very young ages, Nyirumbe said.
“They had to serve as sex slaves. They were traded as child soldiers … used as cooks, as baby sitters,” she said.
About 2 million children are orphaned or homeless in Uganda, said Louis Picard, director of the Ford Institute for Human Security and professor of public and international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.
Of those, about 500,000 are refugees from the civil war, but HIV and AIDS took many children’s parents, said Picard, who also is a board member of a humanitarian organization that runs a children’s home, Bright Kids Uganda, near Kampala, Uganda.
Many organizations work to help children in Uganda, but they are small, and the challenges are plentiful, he said.
At St. Monica’s, girls learn tailoring, catering, secretarial skills and computer programming to help them become self-sufficient.
Nyirumbe said she hopes the school’s model can be replicated in other areas in conflict.
“It’s giving them a family where they can be loved and where they also in turn begin to love their children,” she said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.