In the audience at the 16th annual Raoul Wallenberg lecture last night were 22 Sudanese refugees who owe their lives to the speaker.

Angela Cesere
Sister Luise Radlmeier stands with her former Sudan students at the Raoul Wallenberg Lecture and and Medal Presentation in Rackham Auditorium Thursday night. (ANGELA CESERE/Daily)

The speaker, Sister Luise Radlmeier, has made the pursuit of higher education possible for more than 1,000 Sudanese youths over the past two decades.

In her lecture, Radlmeier relayed graphic stories of the wartime experiences of refugee children and lamented the violence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“My hope is that the mighty powers of this world will find a solution for the senseless and unnecessary violence plaguing the Darfur region,” Radlmeier said. “But some political powers fear to get involved, so war drags on.”

The lecture is delivered by the recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Endowment and Medal, named for University alum Raoul Wallenberg, who saved upwards of 100,000 Jews in Budapest during the Holocaust.

The endowment and medal were established in 1985 to memoralize Wallenberg and recognize people who demonstrate similar humanitarian spirit.

The Wallenberg Endowment committee took notice of Radlmeier after an article in Reform Judaism magazine revealed her part in coordinating the sponsorship of 10 Sudanese women by a Jewish congregation in Boulder, Colo., committee member Irene Butter said.

Radlmeier’s work began informally in 1987 when Sudanese refugee children began to beg at the Dominican missionary where she lived in Nairobi, Kenya. The children had fled to a United Nations camp in Kakuma, Kenya from war-torn Sudan, where they had faced the threat of death, slavery or forced recruitment into the army.

Radlmeier helped young refugees leave the U.N. compound, where conditions were inhospitable.

Mickelina Pia Peter, a refugee who is now is a junior at the University of Colorado, said the refugees would have to line up as early as 4 a.m. to assure they received rations of food and water, which were often insufficient.

“What amazes me is there was a swimming pool on the U.N. compound, but not enough water for the refugees,” Pia Peter said in an interview.

The Sudanese youths who survived the hazardous thousand-mile journey from Sudan to the Kakuma camp became known worldwide as the “lost generation.” Their stories were told in the 2002 documentary “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”

Radlmeier was originally assigned to the Nairobi missionary and supported it financially as a teacher at the local community college, but her mission evolved to include securing the futures of the young refugees.

After initially paying herself for the primary and secondary schooling of 27 children, she has worked to raise money to enroll several hundred students a year in universities and trade schools.

By the late 1990s, she was assisting applicants for resettlement by helping with the interviews and tests for immigration to the United States, Canada and Australia.

Funds procured by Radlmeier have led to the development of a compound consisting of student dormitories, a shelter for children orphaned and infected by AIDS, two nursery schools and a primary school in Juja, which is northeast of Nairobi.

She is now working on her mission to secure health care and education for refugees in east Africa. In 2005, she sponsored 300 refugees in different levels of school.

But because of cuts in funding, Radlmeier is struggling to aid the numerous candidates for relief, including more than 200 former child soldiers who have applied for sponsorship to pursue vocational training.

Her strongest wish is to raise money to help 300 refugee girls to leave the Kakuma camp, where she said the girls face exploitation. Radlmeier said orphaned girls at refugee camps are kept from educational opportunities and are often forced into wedlock with already married men.

Among others to receive the Wallenberg medal are Miep Gies, the woman who protected the family of Anne Frank; Holocaust author Elie Wiesel and the Dalai Lama. Last year, the medal was presented to Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda.”

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