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Sister Luise Radlmeier

Sister Luise Radlmeier came to the attention of the Wallenberg Committee through an article in Reform Judaism (Fall 2005) which reveals how Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, Colorado organized the sponsorship for ten young Sudanese women in Colorado through the efforts of this Dominican missionary. Sr. Luise has served her order in many ways — some of them unexpected and unplanned by her order.

Luise Radlmeier was born in Pfeffenhausen, Bavaria in 1937. She recognized her vocation early in life and joined the Dominicans in 1956.

At the age of 19 she was sent to Africa, where she served the Dominicans in a number of countries, including Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya. In the course of this she also received a university education, including a Master’s degree from the Sorbonne while on scholarship, and later became a lecturer in Religious Studies.

In 1985 she was sent to Nairobi, Kenya. Her assignment was to lecture at a local college and contribute to the support of the other Sisters. It was in 1987 that she began her personal mission of assisting the children of war-torn Sudan. This started in an informal and part-time fashion. There were ever-increasing numbers of Sudanese refugee children coming to the house to beg the Dominican Sisters for sustenance. Sr. Luise responded by helping them to find not only food and housing: her goal was to provide them with an education. This was not a routine part of the Sisters’ mission but was certainly in keeping with Dominican values.

Initially, she placed 27 of the refugee children in a number of area schools and paid for their primary schooling and for secondary education in trades and technical fields that would make them self-reliant. By 1990 she moved her efforts to a larger scale, continuing to enroll the ever-increasing numbers of refugee children who, despite the incredible challenges, were making their way to Nairobi from the camp in Kakuma (run by the United Nations) more that 700 kilometers away. Sr. Luise raised the funds to enroll hundreds of Sudanese children in primary and secondary schools – promising them a future through carpentry, mechanics, plumbing, computer and secretarial skills. When sufficient funds were available she supported the schooling of as many as 800 children a year.

By the late 1990s Sr. Luise was involved in many ways in efforts to aid this lost generation of Sudanese youth. As she continued to support and educate hundreds of the refugees who make their way to her in Nairobi she expanded her efforts. For example, Sr. Luise works through the Joint Voluntary Agency to assist with the preliminary interviews that determine resettlement. She helped to settle many of the Lost Boys of Sudan from the camp at Kakuma by preparing them for the tests they would have to take to immigrate to the USA, Canada and Australia.

In 2002, Sr. Luise finally left her position as a lecturer in the college to attend full time to the needs of the refugees and orphans. During the course of the 1990s she was able to secure funding from a wide range of private and public sources and gradually built a compound in Juja, some 48 kilometers northeast of Nairobi. There she established dormitories for students, a home for AIDS Orphans and HIV positive children, a clinic, two nursery schools and a primary school. She also established a modest hospital in nearby Thika. This is for the local poor and destitute but benefits the refugees, too.

In 2005 the peace talks between warring factions in Sudan resulted in major NGOs shifting their policies. Now they provide funding for education only to groups inside Sudan and not in neighboring countries where most of the refugees are. However, there is no shortage of children and adolescents who come to Sr. Luise for help, nor has she lost her desire to secure a future for Sudanese youth in the refugee camps.

She continues to care for refugees from throughout east Africa, though the majority are Sudanese. The focus of her activity remains education and health care. In Juja her efforts support an AIDS Orphanage which is home to 132 Kenyan children; 137 other orphans are placed with “grandmothers” in surrounding villages. At the hospital Sudanese are treated for free but Kenyans must pay. (A German Parish in Nurnberg supports the hospital and orphanage, with plans for extended services.)

In late 2005 she was paying for the education of 75 children in vocational school, 135 children in secondary school, and 100 children in primary school—all refugees. Funding cuts do mean that new admissions are fewer than half of what they used to be. Besides those at Juja, she has been trying to support the education of 166 secondary pupils and 67 vocational trainees in schools around the region. She has had some 200 applications from former child soldiers for money for vocational training which she cannot provide at this time. Another 40 had been accepted but must wait for their vocational training because there is no money.

Currently, funding comes from small charitable organizations and informal, personal sources. For example Sr. Luise receives donations from Caritas Austria, the Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging in Kansas and Jewish organizations in Colorado; from her home parish in Germany; from the sale of clothes made by the young women under her care. She raises money wherever and however she can.

Sr. Luise’s dream now is to bring 300 or more girls out of the camp at Kakuma where they daily face abuse and exploitation with no promise of a future. Her plan is to provide these girls with an education in Nairobi and eventually secure their resettlement, as happened with the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Photos courtesy of Susan Glairon