Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe from Gulu, Uganda is a gutsy, no-nonsense nun that works with women and children who have been abducted and brutalized by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA it is a group of fighters led by a brutal leader, Joseph Kony. They have terrorized the Great Lakes Region of central Africa for over 20 years killing and abducting thousands of children and displacing over 400,000 people.
Sister Rosemary, however, is a beacon of hope and strength to hundreds of women and children who are rehabilitated at her school, St. Monica’s Girls’ Tailoring School. These girls, many who have become mothers, have been terrorized and abused by Joseph Kony’s LRA now are provided a safe haven and opportunities for a new life for the future. Sister Rosemary’s school is training them in life skills, tailoring, and making pop-top purses that are sold with the funds going back to the girls.
Dr. Catherine Hamlin turned 90 this year. She is a woman who has given the vast majority of those years to the “least of these” in Ethiopia. She has run the Hamlin Fistula Hospital for over 40 years. The hospital is working to bring back dignity to women who have dealt with the devastating aftermath of days spent in labor without access to basic maternal health care who are left with an obstetric fistula.
An obstetric fistula occurs after prolonged and agonizing obstructed labor, forming a hole through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably. Women who develop fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and rejected by their communities. Most cases of obstructed labor result in a stillborn birth leaving the woman with a double sorrow of the death of her baby and this devastating condition.
Dr. Hamlin’s hospital not only treats women with fistula but gives them a new life – sending them home in a new dress, providing services for many of them to re-integrate back into their communities and giving them hope for a new future.
Mamitu Geshe came to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 1962 because her labor had gone horribly wrong. Mamitu came from a remote Ethiopian village and was married at the age of 14. At the age of 16, she became pregnant and after four days of labor she eventually had a stillborn baby. Her bladder, rectum and birth canal had all been damaged from the agonizing days in labor. After several operations that cured her in some of her injuries she was still left incontinent.
The founders of the hospital, Dr. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, saw great potential in Mamitu and took her on as a nurse aide. She began changing bed linens and eventually started helping out during surgeries. Mamitu was a natural leader and soon started routinely performing the entire fistula repair surgery herself. Now Mamitu is one of the world’s most experienced fistula surgeons and regularly trains other doctors around the world in fistula repair surgery. Her story was featured in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestselling book Half the Sky.
Dr. Inonge has led an incredibly full life. The granddaughter of an African King, she has served as Ambassador to the U.S., Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg and the EU. She was member of the Zambian Parliament and worked with UNICEF for ten years covering 42 African countries. In 2001, she ran for the Zambian Presidency and later ran for the Chairwoman of the African Union Commission. She comes from a family of politicians – her father was the first President of the African National Congress of Zambia and her mother was the first woman in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia at the time) to register to vote.
Upon meeting Dr. Inonge you would never know of her long list of accomplishments or that she is of African royal blood. Her life has been committed to improving the lives of women and children. She’s led peace missions to Rwanda following the genocide, Burundi and the Horn of Africa working to include women in the peace process. She has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the poor and needy not only in Zambia but in many countries on the African continent. In Washington Life Magazine she was noted as one of Washington’s most powerful diplomats and called the “Heroine of All African Women.” In both character, commitment to Africa and its people, I would strongly agree that Inonge is indeed a heroine not only in Africa but for women around the world.
Check out Sister Rosemary’s documentary Sewing Hope: