Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, the very first person in history to be awarded the John Paul II Veritatis Splendor Award, is a real woman of action. In Uganda, she helps young women and orphans of war by teaching them the tailoring trade. And there’s more to come. In this interview for malopolska.pl, the official portal of the Małopolska voivodeship, she reveals what dreams will come true thanks to the financial support received from the region.
As the first winner of the Veritatis Splendor Award in history, you’ve not only received a silver laurel wreath, but also very substantial financial support in the equivalent of USD 100,000. How much good can be done with this sum? Is it countable?
When I finally realized – and it took a while (smiles) – that such a large sum had been provided for my disposal, I was over the moon! It’s such a miraculous quirk of fate! To me, this money is a springboard to finally be able to reach for my dreams! Firstly, we want to fix the sewing machines for our girls in the center. Possibly, buy even more. Not only will it enable us to provide better training, but also to improve our tailoring service, which brings us money to sustain the center. We do all sorts of jobs: we sew school uniforms, repair worn clothing, etc.
Judging by your enthusiasm and resourcefulness, it’s certainly not the only idea, am I right?
Of course (smiles). One of my huge dreams is to start an agriculture project. I want to run a farm on our center’s grounds. That’ll be an agriculture school as well. This will enable our students to learn how to grow crops, breed animals, and at the same time will provide us with a steady supply of food. The surplus could be sold, creating another potential source of income for our center and therefore enabling us to help an even greater number of women and their children… Now – thanks to the Veritatis Splendor prize – I’ve obtained resources that’ll let me commence this project already this year! I’ll buy cows, seeds and cuttings and we’ll get it started. I’m over the moon! It’ll be such great news, since the girls don’t know anything about the prize yet. A real surprise! I’ll come to them and say, “Listen, a real miracle has happened. And it’s a miracle of John Paul II”.
These sort of miracles are needed in Uganda more than anywhere else in the world, I suppose?
In my country, there’s been really terrible, frightening things going on. Imagine little girls being kidnapped, getting hurt, raped, forced to fight. One of the girls in the center confided to me that she had to kill her little sister, because she had been slowing down the troop’s pace… This young girl still cannot forgive herself, even though I explained to her that she cannot take blame for something she was forced to do. And God will certainly not judge her for it. Or another story: a girl along with a group of innocent children was executed by one of the commanders just because she appealed to another officer. Her only fault, if one can say so in the first place, was her rare beauty… My voice breaks when I think about it. But you cannot turn away from such tragedies and say “It doesn’t bother me!”. In a few years’ time this sort of barbarism may happen elsewhere, also in Europe…
Is there any happy ending in this sea of painful and frightening stories?
Yes, absolutely! A happy ending is that the girls recover from these tragedies and regain their dignity. Everything thanks to the work they get here: sewing, craftingpurses made of pop tops from aluminum cans. They see that their work makes sense, brings income that helps them to maintain themselves. Selling one handbag that takes about a week to make maintains the woman and her child for almost 3 months! For that money they’ve got a place to sleep, 3 meals per day and access to water. And most importantly to them – they’ve gained it all by themselves! It restores their dignity and self-esteem.
These bags are getting more and more buzz. Soon they’ll end up on the catwalk!
I’d be delighted! A few big names already got our purses, among them the actress Maria Bello. Even Bill Clinton got one.
A lot of plans and projects ahead of you… What shall I wish you, since enthusiasm and energy you certainly don’t lack?
I’ll share a secret with you, I’ve got one more dream… Possibly a bit unrealistic, but I’d like to start a petrol station in our center in Uganda. That’d provide us with more jobs and a stable income that’d enable us to maintain our center and become a little bit more independent from the irregular donations. Anytime I come to share this idea with anyone, they cannot believe their ears. But I believe I’ll make it happen one day. In the end, miracles do happen, right? One of them has just happened here, in Małopolska.