The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and the women presidents of regional Swiss Reformed churches awarded Mulemwa the Sylvia Michel Prize, which includes a cash award of $5,000. The prize is named for the first woman to be elected president of a Swiss cantonal (regional) church.
“I am humbled,” Mulemwa told a crowd gathered at the Reformed Church in Murten, northeast of Geneva, for a celebratory service. “It is too much.”
The former head nurse was honored for having created the Liyoyelo Batik Centre in Senanga, a community in southwest Zambia. The project provides training in income generating skills, such as making batik and candles and raising fruits and vegetables.
Mulemwa works with a network of church women called the Anamoyo who are known for their active involvement in community service in the name of the church.
Martina Zurkinden-Benes, vice president of the Fribourg Reformed Church Synod, paid tribute to Mulemwa, saying that the Anamoyo women are proof of the adage, “Invest in a woman and you invest in a village.”
In fact, Zubrinden-Benes added, by investing in women “you invest in the world … We will only advance in church and society if we recognize the gifts women bring.”
Hedwig Schneider, a retired Swiss church leader, nominated Mulemwa for the prize. The women met when Schneider was in Zambia to deliver church aid. The material she was carrying included equipment for batik making. Mulemwa learned the skills and taught others in her community. Later the project expanded to include raising fruit and vegetables for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Isabelle Chassot, a councilor representing the government of the canton of Fribourg, told Mulemwa: “When I read of your accomplishments, I have the sense of being in the presence of a universal woman.”
Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, responsible for WCRC’s gender justice program, praised Mulemwa and the women working with her for “sustaining, nurturing life and bringing hope to their community.”
The ceremony was held on the day that marks the 120th anniversary of the decision in Switzerland to allow women to vote in church elections. It was only in the early 1970s that women were allowed to vote in government elections.
WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council. Its 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate and gender justice, mission, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions. The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, based in Berne, Switzerland, is an alliance of 26 Protestant churches, representing about 2.4 million members.