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I am Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe. I have helped thousands of young women victimized by the Lord's Resistance Army. AMA.

Sep 23rd 2014 by SisterRosemary • 19 Questions • 755 Points

I am Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, from the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was founded in South Sudan, and moved to Uganda after the civil war in South Sudan. From the time I joined, us Sisters had a passion to support the most vulnerable, especially children. I started helping those harmed by the Lord's Resistance Army back in 1987. I started at a small scale, and then started to support a larger group of women who were abducted and then managed to escape and come back. Currently, every year we take in around 250 women with their children, and also we do not only limit our support to women who were taken by rebels but also girls in Northern Uganda who have lost their education due to the war, and we have also extended our program to support women with HIV/Aids so they can have skill training and get support from their own friends and be able to support one another. We give them so many types of education - we are going to teach sustainable agriculture, which helps support women in the community as well.

I was appointed a CNN Hero and the 2014 TIME 100 Honoree, and am the subject of the film Sewing Hope. The film is opening in New York this Thursday.

I am here at reddit NYC with Victoria assisting me. AMA.

https://twitter.com/reddit_AMA/status/514464259028582400

EDIT: Well, you can find me on Twitter @Sister_Rosemary. I must go to my screening, but I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak to the public and learn also some new things. And I am really very much fascinated about the difference of culture and opinion, especially as HIV/AIDs and condoms are concerned. There is a lot of diverse thoughts about this, and you can see, I don't go very far away, I always narrow down all my answers to education.

Thank you!

Q:

What was your impression of the "Kony 2012" video about the LRA's leader, and did it's release have any affect on your work?

A:

Well, it didn't affect my work exactly. Positiively or negatively, it's not about my work. But I really do feel it was a great highlight, because these same children who are in that video are children who have also been with us. So there was a great awareness in the public eyes, especially in the international community, but again, I say, the emphasis is there. And for me, I personally think the emphasis should NOT be on the rebel leader. The emphasis should be on those who were affected! Because even if we catch this man today, where are our plans for those who have been affected? Otherwise, I am very happy that many people saw this video, I am happy that it did, at least it made people aware of what has happened in Uganda for all these years. But people should know that it is NOT finished - we are dealing with the aftermath of this war. People need a lot of healing process, and there are so many things we need. If there are non-governmental organizations who have been in Northern Uganda and now want to say "it is time for us to leave," It would not be a good thing, because for ME this is the time to begin, the time to start rebuilding people.


Q:

If the conflict does come to an end, what will be the first steps to rebuild?

A:

EDUCATION.

We really need to offer, at least, an education, especially to women and children who lost all their chances. And of course, for the women now, a good number of them will need reading and writing skills at least, for their children definitely, we need to invest in quality education and health. For the women too, we need to give them quality health. At least they should be able to access a doctor, and they should also be able to get good attention in some health centers or clinics at least, because sometimes in Uganda you get hospitals that are so congested, or you have to pay for your medication and these women don't have a lot of money. And for women with HIV / AIDs, they are accessing medicines given by the government, but what they need is HOW They are being taken care of while they are taking the medication - how is their feeding, how are their children, while they take these medications? Their nutrition is very, very important.

It is common that women who are escaped have HIV / AIDS, and that clinic within our school is of great support to not only the women in our centre but also around the community. We make sure people get quality medication and that they are able to see a doctor at least once in a week. We give as low a charge as you can get anywhere, so people can access this medication. And I have to rely on people who can help me get quality medicine and medication to put in this clinic, I have to rely on some donations as well to help these people.


Q:

Thanks for all that you (and your group) does. How can we help make a difference?

Also - where are the girls you helped now?/What are they doing?

A:

I keep track of them, and a good number of them are working on - a lot of them have little shops, selling dresses, or small businesses they have started. Sometimes we look for them for employment, WE have to create the employment. Like I have some girls, for whom I started clinics, I say "Why don't you work as a cleaner in the clinic?" For some of the girls, we have taught catering, in almost all restaurants and hotels in Northern Uganda, you will find at least one girl from St Monica! At least one girl! And sometimes they start their own small eating places, I think they are quite busy. When I go around the market, I always come back quite refreshed, I always find at least one girl working. And if I don't see them working, I say "come back, we will teach you how to make money."


Q:

Hi Sister Rosemary, thanks for doing this.

What are your thoughts regarding the effectiveness and transparency of financial and humanitarian assistance from governments compared to that that of NGO's. Also do you feel that foreign investment in Africa is enabling positive growth and development in the continent, or do you feel that it does more harm than good in the longterm?

A:

I think that as long as we use the people on the ground, as long as they work as partners, they are good. Because if foreign investments come and they start doing things by themselves without finding out the needs of the people, that will really harm people. Because I think for any foreign investment, the way of thinking about it is that you are bringing bricks, that we will put on a foundation that is already made - foreign investments is coming to add on what has already existed. But if you come with a new idea and you are bringing in people to understand something new, I think it will not work. I think people need to build from WHERE they are. It needs to be a partnership. Because we are all learning from each other. Foreign investments need to learn from where they are going to, and we also learn from foreign investors. Nobody should think that my idea is superior, or anything.

And it is difficult, because i personally have not worked a lot with government aid, but when we talk about government aid, let us not forget trickle down theory. It may be difficult for us to understand how it works since i have not worked with government aid. I feel very comfortable with our work as an NGO, but the only thing is a lot of charities, the fund which is given to do one type of work, the money is not used for that type of work. Is that because of a lack of reporting tools? Because if you are held accountable about what you are doing, I think that will work very well with charities. Accountability is the greatest thing we need to do. If we are not held accountable, it is a red flag.


Q:

Thanks for the response, and thanks for what you're doing in the region.

A:

Thank you!


Q:

Hi Sister Rosemary. I hope you are enjoying New York City! Where can people go online to donate to help your cause?

A:

Go to http://www.prosforafrica.com/ and you can donate there We can also write a letter of taxation, as well. And http://www.prosforafrica.com/ sends the money to me, 100%.


Q:

How do we keep campaigns like #bringbackourgirls, which you were instrumental in creating, active in the news cycle? Do you ever get discouraged when the media ignores these stories?

A:

I get very discouraged. And i have been telling that the media should NEVER consider any story which has affected humanity to be something of the past.

I always say: The media should always be the ones to put these stories on the forefront, or at least get a small corner to keep reminding people about it.

Because the media is a very powerful story to help remind these stories. And if the media keeps quiet, I think it is a sin to keep quiet. Because WE are all relying on the media.

It helps when people share these hashtags. It helps.


Q:

Have you ever seen a diamond in the flesh?

A:

No. No. I have never seen a diamond in real life. I come from a small village! You have to know that! Not even here in New York!


Q:

Out of the thousands you have helped, who made the most impact and why?

A:

It is so hard for me to answer always that question, because so many of these young women have made an impact on my life.

I remember some names. But the way I see their progress on a daily basis, really always inspires me very very strongly. Then, some of them had children, they escaped with children - they were children of the rebels, and I have seen these children growing in front of me, it was a great inspiration for me, to see these kids growing, and they take me as their grandma or Ma or Aunties - that inspires me quite a lot. I have a quite strong bond with these children. That is my greatest inspiration, in that I can't really say that one of them inspires me.

I have one girl, she escaped - she came from another district, she was VERY young, and she was trained as a child soldier. She was with the rebels for 9 years, they took her as a wife, and she was impregnated by one of the Rebel Commanders. When she gave birth, she decided that the best thing for her to do was for her to escape so her baby could be safe. She got the gun, went to the front line, with her baby on her back - her ONE WEEK OLD Baby- and escaped. When I met this girl, I took her in, and we took care of her until today, but the woman has said to me - you will not believe who she is, but she has got her dignity back. She is living a life she never expected, she is very happy. The baby she escaped with is still in my care, the child had to be taken in, so now i Have this girl and she is in our orphanage. She is a very happy kid, and i am looking forward to re-uniting them one day.


Q:

Have you found the people you educate and help are reaching out to and teaching their peers?

A:

EXACTLY. IN fact, if I want to find new teachers, I almost always call back the women I trained! And for me I have realized that is one way of helping them, is by exposing them, by making them understand that they have the talents. They can now educate other people. In fact, one of the girls who is in the documentary film with a very tough story is still with me, she is teaching others, and I've put her in charge of a group of women - you would never believe. She is so good in teaching them! She is learning english by herself. That is a great story of joy for me, to see how this girl is walking with her head up, and give back what she learned to others. This girl was made to kill her own sister. And now she is smiling more every day, she is teaching others, I can send her to go out without me being there, and she is able to go and teach. This is the services. And I feel that is one way for us to walk towards rehabilitation completely.


Q:

Wow! Really cool AMA! Thanks for taking the time. I have two questions:

  1. If the conflict were resolved tomorrow, do you think the women would want to return home? Or do they truly see Uganda as their home now?
  2. How can everyday people living far away from the conflict get involved to help?
A:

1) No, of course, they would like to return home, and apart from that, they would like to have their own destiny in their own hands. And that is one of the reasons we are giving them skills education - not to keep them in one place, but make sure that they can live anyplace, that is why. We always value these women as people who can be helped, and much as they have lost their chances of education, we have to emphasize practical skills, that is why I can say they will be able to support themselves, and they can become a contributing factor even to the economy of the country.

2) There are many ways to support and get involved. One is that people should really get to know about what is gone on, and in that way, they can take that information for themselves and say "I can help in this way" because if you do not do research, you can just ignore it and say it is gone in the post and there is no need to care about it. And yet those who have suffered for more than 10 years - they have the greatest trauma. So those who live outside, they should see how they can get involved in the healing process of those people. It is about raising awareness, and letting other people know that there are still suffering taking place in their hearts, so it is very important to walk with these people always and at least show them that we care. We have orphanages and long-distant adoption where children have people supporting their education from far away, and of course, people who care send us some support, and if there are new people who say "here is where we can send help, genuinely", I think they can send help even to us, or Pros for Africa, and then there is a website on which you can find to donate: http://www.prosforafrica.com/ Then, apart from that, I always tell people: we are trying our best to teach these young women the ethics of work, and so if you can buy the purses these women are making, http://www.sistersunited.com/ (under construction) these young women want to sell things, and we teach them how to work with their own hands, not to remain there begging or waiting for donations. If people want to give us donations, they must find us moving on, they must find us working, so they will not be considered as donors but rather as partners who want to work with us and want to build these young people ahead.


Q:

What's happening with those kidnapped girls?

A:

I wouldn't be able to tell, because I am not from Nigeria. Sometimes you don't hear much about what is happening. Sometimes we don't know what is going on. In Uganda, I have worked with women in the past who were kidnapped. Some of them escaped, and some of them were also captured by Ugandan soldiers when they attacked the rebels. Some also were released during the peace talks. But a great number escaped. And of course, a lot of the kidnapped children were also killed. I mean, I Had women who were just the wives of the rebel leader themselves, and I helped them out along with their children. I have one little girl who just lives with me, I don't share her identity with people, she is an innocent just like any other child, but we never tell her who she is - he even does not know that he is the father, the Rebel leader. But we want her to be innocent and happy like other children.


Q:

In your extended programs, why is there so much focus on girls as opposed to boys? I imagine that the children that do come in with women as apart of the 250 do include boys, but you only mention girls in your additional programs. Is there a cultural reason for this, a personal reason? Please forgive my ignorance if there is.

A:

No, there's no personal reason. The reason that I emphasis a lot on work is that the girls, NATURALLY, in my culture, have been doubly disadvantaged. They are left behind in everything education and life. Boys are preferred normally to girls in my culture. And of course, girls always are considered, like a source of income, wealth, they have to get married, sometimes they drop out of education, people do not care about it. That is why I wanted to do something different within my own culture, we value the women and young girls more. I do not exclude boys from that. These young women bring their children, boys and girls. I never thought I would have started a kindergarten, or a day care. This is all because i wanted to start addressing the needs of these children. And this is why I put the emphasis on women - because i wanted to teach them that life can be different, if we give an education to their children.

To tell you the truth, when a woman has a child out of wedlock or out of marriage, the chance of her getting married is very little in my culture. And when she gets married again, the chance of the second marriage supporting the children from the first marriage is very very slim. And it has been worst when women have 2-3 children from the rebels, people raise their eyebrows, looking at these children. Who is going to take the children of the rebel leaders, to get permanently married to the mother? That is one of the greatest reason for us to help women get skills to help support their children and so they can be able to love these children.


Q:

Thank you so much for your response. I had suspected that the cultural differences would have much to do with the direction of many of your extended programs, thank you for providing context to that suspicion and giving me an insight into what it is you're doing.

If you don't mind, I have a follow up question.

In the scenarios you've provided with regards to women finding it difficult to remarry, what are the core causes of this outside of there just being a cultural difference? I'm a man, not a woman, but am divorced and have two children. I don't think, that if I so wish, and I do, that it would be at all difficult to remarry at some point. I don't believe that it would be any more difficult in my country for a woman to remarry either. Are men who marry these women looked down upon by their peers? Are they too proud? Is there a stigma, religious or otherwise, to raising someone else's children?

A:

It certainly is a stigma. First of all, if you already have your own children, and then you have another woman you are marrying coming in with more children, and then for us, the real reason for marriage is to give them children, so bringing more children, more mouths to feed, makes it more difficult. So it is culture. They may look down on the woman, actually. If a woman is coming in with children, from somewhere, and a man will not be respected marrying a woman like that. They will call her "secondhand." You know, I used to tell them, girl I am teaching you the skills, make sure you master them - make sure you get MARRIED to these skills. Because whomever will want to marry you in the future, I will warn you it is a temporary marriage. And i have heard from some of them, they have come back and told me the marriage is not working. And women bond very easily with their children, and that is why it is good for us to be able to help these women be able to support and love their children, and not need to find someone else to rely on.


Q:

What is your own opinion on the Catholic Church's ban of contraceptives in relation to the massive number of people infected with HIV/AIDs in Africa? Do you think the ban has contributed to the spread of this deadly disease?

A:

This is not the first time I am hearing this question! I always say: the first thing that must go with contraception is education. There is no word in my language for condoms. So contraceptives or no contraceptives, you have to educate people. If you give young people condoms, children use them as balloons. You have to educate people about these things. Sometimes people will just give things out, like from the top of the tree. You have to go from the bottom of the tree up. When you start from down and go up, don't start from up and come down.

I am a midwife by profession - yes. I have taught natural family planning, contraceptives, but if you don't educate people, it will never work.


Q:

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I agree education is everything. That being said, how do you feel about members of the Catholic Church, namely people like Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who was quoted as saying, "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom." This claim was echoed by an archbishop in Nairobi.

You say education is important, but surely false statements like this by the Catholic Church are the complete opposite of education. Does this controversy make you question your membership to the Church?

A:

No, you know, people have different opinions, and I don't think a person is a Cardinal and his opinion may be always the best. People are all different, it is all about what we stand for and all we think. And every one of us should listen to our conscience.


Q:

Have you every thought about giving up your religion, and all religions? More people have been killed it the name of some god than for any other reason. It sounds like its high time to get rid of the man, don't you agree?

A:

It doesn't affect my faith at all, I have a strong conviction that my religion is to help people. I don't understand how people can use the name of religion to kill, or destroy life. I think that is totally different from real faith in God. I don't believe in that. And so for me, all this challenges my faith, that i can protect people, that I can give my life to support people.


Q:

It doesn't affect my faith at all

That's the problem. The problem is every other person of religious belief says exactly the same thing. And then what you have competing faiths. Of your your god es "better/different" than everybody elses god. That's what everybody thinks. And that's why so many people die.

Let me ask this a different way. Would you give up your faith if it meant everybody else giving up theirs as well?

A:

I would not. Absolutely no! Why? I don't see the point. Because the reason I am like this is because of my faith. And what keeps on motivating me to keep doing what I am doing is because of my faith. People who use faith as an excuse for violence, I don't think that is right. At least with my little knowledge of what I have seen and heard and read and studied, I have not come across a religion that propagates violence.


Q:

I have not come across a religion that propagates violence.

But haven't they all, all religions? I'm not trying to give you a hard time Sister, and I do admire your beliefs. But all religions have propagated violence at one time or another. Radical Islam is the most noteworthy right now as it gets all the attention. But there were centuries of Christian Crusades. Buddhism has its fair share of violence. Lets not talk about the current Jewish violence in the middle east. They all do it. Some just wear a different mask.

In you mind, is child rape violence? I have admired Frances for some things. But the fact that he has not put his foot down when it comes to pedophilic priests means to me that he at best tolerates it, at worst condones it.

Make no mistake, all religions propagate violence in some way shape or form except for 2. Atheism and Agnosticism.

Anyways, i'm sorry to intrude on your AMA. Thank you for indulging me, and I do wish you good luck with your work, i'm sure it's not easy on you.

A:

No problem, whatever decision you have made, if that is what you have found. If at one time you have found all religions propagate violence. I have to stand on what MY conscience is telling me, which is that violence is wrong. And of course faith is a matter of my conscience. But people are free to decide and also make research and stand by what they believe in.