Touch the World and it will Touch You Back

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by

Bernadette Galvin '57 sharing friendship, love, and diversity in South Sudan.

Written by Kari Clark ’91

When Bernadette Anderson Galvin ’57 offered to help her local Vietnamese community several years ago, she wanted to support newly arrived immigrants in their adopted country of America. She had no idea how this decision would change her own life.

That first step led to others and soon she was engaged with the broader immigrant community in Arizona. When she moved to Red Wing, Minnesota, her focus shifted to some of Minnesota’s newest immigrants from Africa—South Sudanese refugees and the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. 

The Lost Boys were children as young as five when they escaped their war-torn villages in southern Sudan to make their way to refugee assistance. Eventually relocated to communities across the United States, they adjusted to life in a modern country in a short period of time, thanks, in part, to volunteer support. Galvin’s work and interaction with these new Americans helped her appreciate her relationship with the rest of the world. 

Galvin assisted some of these young men with their education plans. She got involved with microenterprise, helping Sudanese women organize their own housecleaning businesses. She taught basic life skills and sponsored Sudanese immigrants at church gatherings. Her connections grew into friendships with the Sudanese immigrant population and the people of Sudan. 

Until recently, Sudan was an eastern African nation decimated by conflict between the Arab Muslims of the north and the black, predominately Christian, south. In 1956, the country secured its independence from the colonial influence of the United Kingdom and Egypt. Since then, it has been through two civil wars. A five-decade-long genocide claimed the lives of more than two million people. A peace treaty signed in 2005 provided for a 2011 referendum on southern secession. In January 2011, by an overwhelming majority (99 percent), the people of southern Sudan voted for their independence. 

Pencils and crayons were a big hit with the Sudanese children.

With joy, Galvin watched the voting from her television screen. She vowed to be there to witness the signing of the constitution in July 2011, and she quickly found the perfect travel companion to join her.

In 2009, Galvin met Steve Johnson at Gustavus Adolphus College at Christmas in Christ Chapel. Waiting for the program to begin, they learned of their mutual interest and passion for the people of Sudan. Johnson had also worked as an advocate for the South Sudanese. This conversation led to the two working together to help the Sudanese immigrant population of southern Minnesota.  Johnson was as committed as Galvin in his decision to travel to Sudan to celebrate the new nation. 

Galvin and Johnson started a nonprofit called Journey of Hope to Color Our World ( Their goals included educating Americans about what is happening in South Sudan and encouraging help.  They also wanted to support younger generations of Sudanese and Sudanese immigrants in their educational pursuits.

The trip took months of preparation with challenges of coordination with the U.S. State Department and the Sudanese consulate. The new nation has no postal service, so when the pair wanted to send supplies for the people they had to create their own delivery system. “There are few named streets in the country, so there are no addresses,” Johnson explains.

The two friends funded their own trip costs but used donations for education materials (markers, pencils, notebooks, crayons, and other supplies) to give to the hundreds of children they would encounter. Many children had never seen markers before. Galvin had to show them how to use them.

Galvin and Steve Johnson flank Khan Chuol, one of the "Lost Boys" whom Galvin befriended and assisted and who has now returned to the newly independent Republic of South Sudan.

Traveling through South Sudan, they found a country with no infrastructure or services, no formal education system, and a laundry list of needs. However, they also found a country with hope and excitement. One young man carried a sign that read, “An empty stomach under freedom WITH hope is better than a full stomach under bondage WITHOUT hope!” Galvin and Johnson joined hundreds of thousands to witness an eight-hour ceremony under the African sun as a new nation was born. 

The two returned from their trip with renewed optimism and interest in this nascent country. They were determined to continue their efforts to support the children of South Sudan. Through their foundation, they worked to raise money and supplies toward the educational pursuits of this next generation. They have taken their story on the road and shared their account in presentations at churches and community centers. 

Galvin credits her Gustavus education for her missionary spirit to help the Sudanese people. “My parents educated my sisters and me; they made sacrifices to do so, for which I am grateful. One of my first teaching experiences was in Arizona, teaching Native Americans and local children of migrant workers. It began my interest and work to help make another’s life better. Maybe we can’t change the world for everyone, but we can help make a difference for someone.”


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