For 25 years Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) terrorized Northern Uganda. They abducted children to fill their ranks and turned them into killers by forcing them to mutilate their own family members. Boys and girls were stolen from their families, but girls were especially prized by the rebels. Not only could they fight as soldiers, but they were made into sex slaves for Kony's officers.
Now, the war is over, but the decades of brutal conflict have deeply scarred the people of Uganda. Child soldiers return to the very communities they committed violent crimes against, and the girls carry with them a constant reminder of their abuse: their captors' children. These girls-now young women- are often ostracized by their communities. Not only did they commit heinous crimes, but they now bear the children of men who destroyed so many lives-including their own. Many of them lost their families in the war. All of them missed their opportunity for education. Where can they go from here? Do they even have a future?
Forest Whitaker tells the story of one woman's fight to restore hope to her nation. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe resides over Saint Monica's Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda. She lived through the horror created by Kony's LRA and now works to heal the wounds he inflicted on her people.
From her childhood Rosemary learned the value of hard work. Her father was a talented carpenter, and her mother was quick to remind her that 'Nobody in this village ever died because of work.' When she was ten, Rosemary went to live with her oldest sister. Rosemary was given charge of caring for her nieces and nephews. She developed a passion to care for others that she would carry through life.
It was this passion that lead Rosemary to join the Sacred Heart Sisters as a young teen. She saw their compassionate ministry and knew she wanted to give her life to others. At the convent, she learned many skills that would prepare her for the future. She studied as a midwife, but her studies were cut short when she was recruited to assist a surgeon. As she would stitch patients, the surgeon often told her, 'All I am teaching you will prepare you to help people in times of need.' Soon, his prediction would come true.
The war with the LRA began while Sister Rosemary was stationed in Gulu, Uganda. She was overseeing a small group of nuns that lived along the main road into Gulu. Many times Rosemary was called upon to operate on people wounded by the rebels.
The conflict grew so intense that the sisters would lock themselves in the innermost corridor of their home every day before dark. They would sit, listening to gunshots, waiting for the light of dawn. Sister Rosemary had several direct encounters with the rebels. Once, a woman ran to her seeking shelter with two rebels in pursuit. Rosemary hid her, and even at gun point would not reveal her location.
Finally, the conflict grew so terrible that Rosemary and the sisters were forced to flee Gulu. After Rosemary completed her studies as a midwife and nurse, her superiors asked her to return to Gulu to oversee Saint Monica's Vocational School. There, Rosemary would face challenges that she had been prepared for over the course of her whole life.
When Rosemary arrived at Saint Monica's, the LRA was still terrorizing Gulu. Only thirty girls studied at the school, but hundreds of people sought shelter there at night. The school's mission was 'to provide quality and affordable education to underprivileged and at risk girls and women in Northern Uganda,' but it was running at a heavy loss.
Rosemary approached one of the girls who seemed isolated and was not doing well in her courses. Rosemary learned that this girl had been abducted and spent years with the rebels, losing a chance at any education. Rosemary introduced a practical tailoring course, where students who could not complete school were able to learn skills to provide for themselves and their families. A third of the girls signed up.
Rosemary issued a radio announcement offering education to any girls and women who had returned from captivity. Hundreds came. Saint Monica's Vocational School was soon bustling with life. Rosemary and her staff aimed to teach the students skills that would make them independent. But, just as importantly, they wanted to offer the students a chance to heal. By loving the young women, listening to their stories, showing them compassion, and giving them time to heal, the sisters at Saint Monica's restored hope to these girls and women.
Now, the war with the LRA is over, but the war to restore Uganda continues. Sister Rosemary leads the way at Saint Monica's Vocational School in Gulu, and she has opened a similar school in Atiak, 90 kilometers to the north. The schools are becoming self-sustaining as the students sew uniforms for local schools, cater for important events, and create purses from pop-tabs and yarn which they sell internationally.
Rosemary dreams of establishing more schools in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. She sees a bright future for her people, starting with the young women under her care. She tells her students, 'The past will never be recovered, but there is a future. My hope starts now. We can walk today in hope.'