Last year, I helped develop a leadership development curriculum for university students and it was my privilege to be assigned to finding great women leaders who exemplified each leadership characteristic we covered. Unfortunately, I was only afforded 21 slots for 21 women, although there were so many more to feature. While reading and writing about these women, I felt as if they were surrounding me, whispering in my ear all their inspirational words and encouragement. I felt their courage seep into me as I read their stories of bravery, conquest, and compassion and I couldn't wait to share with our students what I had found, particularly about the many incredible women in East Africa.
Earlier this month, during a conference for university student leaders throughout East Africa, we had the honor of hearing from a friend of ours who is one of these East African women powerhouses - Sister Rosemary.
Sister Rosemary began her work in Northern Uganda during Joseph Kony's reign of terror. She provided a safe haven for the young women and girls affected by Kony's violent army, teaching them crucial skills for self-reliance, recovery, and prosperity. She and the other sisters at Saint Monica's Vocational School humbly worked with these women for several years before anyone recognized the impact of her work...but that has all changed. In 2007, she was named a CNN Hero and just this year, she was named one of the top 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine, nominated by Forest Whitaker. While staying with a friend in San Diego earlier this year, we turned on the Colbert Report and watched her challenge Stephen Colbert to a boxing match while raising awareness for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. She has since been on a demanding speaking schedule in the U.S., spreading her joyful spirit everywhere she goes while sharing her inspiring story of bravery and compassion.
In February last year, I joined Sister Rosemary and other African friends in Virginia for a gathering, which happened to be the same time as the super bowl. I asked her who she was cheering for - the Ravens or the 49ers? "Oh I can't watch this and I can't cheer for either team," she responded, "because I have friends on both teams and I don't want either to lose!"
Indeed, Sister Rosemary has true friends on multiple teams in the NFL and the NBA, through her connection with the organization Pros For Africa. When I was with her a couple weeks ago, I asked her about the many issues the NFL and its players have faced lately with domestic violence, child abuse, etc. and if she could play any role in speaking into these issues with the players and the league. She brought up the case of Adrian Peterson, one of the players with whom she has a personal relationship, and although she acknowledged the troublesome actions of his abuse toward his child, she also reminded me to have compassion for these players, many of whom never had great role models themselves.
This unique woman, a nun from a village in northern Uganda, who has helped countless young women recover from the horrors of a brutal war, now has influence on some of the most famous people in my own country - the sports stars who so many young people look up to. She is influential, indeed.
So with all her international fame, Sister Rosemary decided to spend an afternoon with us at our Africa Youth Leadership Forum, speaking to the upcoming East African youth leaders. Of all our speakers over the 4 days of the conference, I know she was the most loved and inspiring. Most of these students had never heard of her, but after listening to her speak and share her story, she quickly became a friend and a role model to all.
I encourage you to purchase her book Sewing Hope and learn more about this incredible woman.