Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, August 2, 2010

U-M junior’s activism sparks Rwandan visit

U-M public policy major Meredith Horowski’s concern for the poor helped earn her a spot on a recent journey to Rwanda, where she observed both stark poverty and inspiring efforts to rebound from years of genocide and war.

Horowski, from Ludington, Mich., also shook hands with the country’s president, Paul Kagame, at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the National Youth Council in Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda.

Meredith Horowski, a junior from from Ludington, Mich., gives children ONE bracelets at a malaria clinic home visit during her trip to Rwanda. Horowski also shook hands with the country’s president, Paul Kagame, during the June 22-29 visit. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Horowski)

While meeting the president was a special moment during her June 22-29 trip, Horowski’s most memorable experience in Rwanda came on her last day in the country.

That was when her five-member group of college advocates, traveling with the anti-poverty advocacy organization ONE, met orphans of the 1994 genocide who are students at the National University of Rwanda in Butare.

“These students are some of the most intelligent and most dedicated I have seen. During our visit, they showed us their classrooms, dining halls, libraries and group houses where they live together and support each other,” she recalls.

At lunch they exchanged contact information and discussed everything from the World Cup to pop musician Lady Gaga. “And then on the bus ride back to drop these students off, ‘We Are the World’ came on the radio,” Horowski says. “Every one of us sang along, waving our arms in the air. I looked around that bus and saw remarkable Rwandan and American students, seated next to each other, singing of Africa’s hope. This was one of the most inspirational experiences of my life.”

More information
Click here to read U-M junior Meredith Horowski's blog about her trip to Rwanda.

Horowski’s trip to Rwanda not only has inspired her to become a better advocate, but also solidified international development and human rights as her career focus, she says. “As a result of this experience, I hope be able to advocate more passionately and knowledgably for the fight against global poverty.”

The junior, who typically spends summers enjoying the Lake Michigan beaches near her hometown or riding her horse Kat, served the past year on the executive board of ONE’s U-M chapter. ONE is a grassroots campaign and advocacy organization backed by more than 2 million people committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa, according to the organization’s website. Cofounded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African policy makers and activists.

“For the past year, I’ve read statistics about the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 per day, and shouted these same statistics across the Diag,” Horowski says, to encourage governments to alleviate poverty. “As I learned, however, understanding the statistics does not remotely prepare one for encountering the reality.”

She became eligible for the trip when her chapter took the top spot of ONE’s annual campus competition, the ONE Campus Challenge, a friendly competition between schools to help mobilize students to advocate on behalf of the world’s poor. The prize included a $10,000 grant that the group could donate to the charity of their choice — they chose Carolina For Kibera, an organization that fights poverty and helps prevent violence through community-based development in the Kibera section of Nairobi, Kenya, and beyond.

“After all our advocacy work on campus, I was eager to do more and learn more,” Horowski says. “I applied for the trip to Rwanda because I believe that the best advocates are those who have seen or experienced what they are advocating for first hand. I wanted to experience both the progress and remaining challenges in these developing countries, and knew that this trip would motivate me to work even harder on behalf of the world’s poorest.”

Upon arriving in Kigali, Horowski says she was struck by the city’s cleanliness and the friendliness of the people. Her week in Rwanda included field visits, meetings and tours to provide an understanding of life in a developing country. Among the tour stops were a girls’ secondary school sponsored by the government, a genocide memorial, HIV and malaria clinics, and a coffee plantation where workers earn $1 per day.

“I will never again take my morning cup of coffee for granted,” Horowski says. “We picked coffee cherries with local farmers and witnessed the complex washing and drying process. Coffee, as we learned, is Rwanda’s biggest export and requires much difficult labor.”

Horowski, who will serve as campus leader of U-M’s ONE chapter this year, says she plans to speak to her local Rotary Club and to other organizations in coming weeks about her Rwandan experience to raise awareness of poverty. She wrote blogs about her trip that are posted on the ONE website at www.one.org/campus/blog.

Horowski also enjoys volunteering with English as a second language classes and working as a Student Government representative.