Lifetime Achievement Award for Fermoy resident dubbed “a Kenyan treasure”


Lifetime Achievement Award for Fermoy resident dubbed “a Kenyan treasure”

Rosemary Karuga, from Africa, and living in Fermoy since 2006, has become the first ever East African woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony which took place in Dublin last October.

Thursday, 24 January 2013
8:00 AM GMT

An African woman who came to Fermoy in 2006 for three months and never got to return home, had a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed on her recently. Rosemary Karuga was the first East African woman ever to graduate in Fine Arts from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.  The accolade, presented by the African Voice Newspaper, celebrated Africans in Ireland for their achievements and contributions to Irish society. Rosemary was recognised for leadership and excellence. She's been described in the past as "a Kenyan treasure."

The awards were presented in October last year at a glittering ceremony in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin. A high turnout of dignitaries and attendees from the African and Irish communities in Ireland were present, along with representatives of various non-governmental organisations and companies who promoted their products and services. As Rosemary was unable to attend, the award was presented to her instead on Friday last at the Amberley Nursing Home, where she's been resident since becoming ill again in January last year.

Rosemary came to Ireland from Kenya in 2006 to visit her family as her granddaughter Angela Wambui was expecting her first child.  Unfortunately, she was taken ill on the flight over. When she recovered sufficiently, no airline was prepared to fly her home and so she was forced to remain.

“She settled in well but it was with the recognition that she had no choice,” her daughter Beni says. She went to live permanently with Beni in September 2007.

The remarkable woman, who is a renowned artist, then determined to make the best of her situation and enjoy her time here. “I am very happy here, the people are very sociable,” she said.

Unlike her preconception of Europe, she said, she never found any discrimination in Ireland. She also credits her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, with its ethos of respect for others, in helping her adjust. Another thing which helped, particularly as Rosemary was raised in colonial times, was the fact that she had been taught by Irish nuns. She, in turn, went on to become a teacher, teaching art and music to primary and secondary schoolchildren in Uganda and Kenya.

Rosemary’s own talent as an artist was recognised and nurtured by the Irish nuns who taught her, particularly, she recalls, Mother Kevin. Her art in later life would take her to American and France, where she staged exhibitions. She has also exhibited in the UK and locally in Fermoy, Cork city and Friar's Gate Gallery in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick.

Rosemary was no stranger to discrimination herself, as a Ugandan marrying a Kenyan she was subject to a lot of prejudice. As a result she would have been very pro-integration, all her life.

In 1983, Rosemary gave her life savings to her daughter Beni, to allow her to travel to the UK where her husband was training as an accountant, a remarkable sacrifice at the time. Beni, her husband and oldest son settled and worked there until 1994 when they came to Ireland. They were the first black family in Fermoy at that time. Beni explains that they made the move as they wanted to settle somewhere that would offer a safe and nurturing place to raise their growing family. She says her experience has been very positive too. She's been working in the education sector since coming here, as a Development Education Facilitator.

When she first arrived she was involved in educational work funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and still does some consultancy work for them. Beni says she shared her mother's very good rapport and relationship with the nuns who educated them both in spite of not being Catholic. "I am a Jehovah's Witness but I would have to give credit to the way they taught us," Rosemary said of the education she received at Our Lady of Mercy, Nairobi South.

In acknowledgement of the contribution she made with her development education work Beni herself received an Africa Day Award presented to her by MEP Emer Costello last year. She was nominated by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

At Amberley Nursing Home on Friday last, staff and other residents were present to see 86-year-old Rosemary presented with her Award by senior manager Jennifer Fitzgerald. There was even a special cake to mark the occasion. Beni was on hand with her daughter Ruth, the youngest of Rosemary's 13 grandchildren, to see her mother accept the award.

While Rosemary has fluent English, she and her daughter happily chatted in Swahili as they caught up on each other's news. Rosemary and Beni want to work with Amberley's social activities co-ordinator Olive Jagoe to share Rosemary's artistic talent with other patients. There's also plans to work with staff in preparing some of the native dishes Rosemary misses so much.

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