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Her Career Goal? Fighting for Human Rights

October 12, 2016

She's a UMD psychology major whose concern for human rights is turning her toward a different path.

Kau Guannu remembers the first time she took a public stand at UMD.

Kau was a residence advisor in UMD's Heaney Hall apartment when the Ebola outbreak shook West Africa, including her birth country, Liberia. She and her friend, Alberta Yaa Nkrumah, from Ghana, noticed there was a lot of misinformation surrounding the virus.

“UMD students had no idea how important it was to stop its spread,” Kau says. She and Alberta had an idea. They took over the bulletin board in their residence hall and posted information about Ebola. 

Then, with the support of Susana Pelayo Woodward, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Kau and Alberta launched Ebola Awareness Week. They distributed World Health Organization information at a table in Kirby Student Center. Not satisfied with merely giving out information, the two designed an “Ebola Does Not Discriminate” t-shirt, brought in a guest speaker, and raised over $600 for Doctors Without Borders. “It was the most important thing I had ever accomplished,” says Kau.

During the Ebola crisis Kau and Alberta Yaa Nkrumah challenged the UMD campus to raise money for Doctor's Without Borders. They sold "Ebola Does Not Discriminate" t-shirts as part of their effort.

During the Ebola crisis Kau and Alberta Yaa Nkrumah challenged the UMD campus to raise money for Doctor's Without Borders. They sold "Ebola Does Not Discriminate" t-shirts as part of their effort.

UMD kept presenting Kau with opportunities and Kau kept seizing them.

Kau says four UMD experiences had a profound effect on her. "The Ebola fundraising project was the first," she says. The next two were a 2014 spring break Civil Rights History trip to Tennessee and Mississippi, and a May 2016 Human Rights-focused study abroad trip to India. "In India we visited non-profits and community organizations," she says. "Some worked on women's rights and others helped provide basic human needs."

It was the fourth experience, an internship with the Minnesota African Women's Association (MAWA), a support organization for African refugee and immigrant women and their families, that pushed her to take the final step toward a career change.

Kau's personal story connects her to MAWA. When Kau was six-years-old, she and her family escaped to Minnesota, fleeing from a Liberian civil war. A few years later, Kau attended a MAWA program, and in the summer of 2016, one of the MAWA leaders offered Kau the opportunity to work with young girls. Kau took the girls on field trips, helped them with summer school projects, taught them dances, and played games with them. 

All the while a plan was forming.

Kau realized that psychology was an excellent major for her bachelor's degree, but she wants to go take another direction after she graduates. The Human Rights field has captured her passion and Kau has seen first-hand that the best way she can help is not with psychology, but with the legal system.

Weeks after her MAWA internship ended, Kau took the LSAT. She's now applying to law schools and looking forward to taking on human rights challenges.

Photo above: Kau visited the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bangalore, India during a study abroad trip in May 2016. Her photo is inset inside a larger photo of the arch.

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