After a lifetime of learning firsthand about the human rights violations in Tanzania, Lauren Boos enters her final year of Saint Leo’s accelerated pre-law program so she can one day fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Lauren Boos was only 3 years old, 4 at the most, when her family first provided an experience that set the tone for much of her life. Her parents, career professionals and Catholic lay missionaries, brought Boos and her older brother with them for a yearlong stay in the East African nation of Tanzania.
“It sounds young, but it was such a profound experience that I have the most vivid memories from our time there, and it had a lasting impact on me for the rest of my life,” said Boos. She can still recall the Christmas when her family delivered gifts to some children at an orphanage there. It was a simple package comprised of oranges, candy, and toys, but the children were overjoyed by the gesture.
The Wisconsin native is now 20, and in her third and final year of the accelerated pre-law program at University Campus. In fact, she is among the first participants in the intensive study program, which has attracted exceptional young people to come and make Saint Leo part of their paths to success. “I have become the person I want to be by being here,” she said.
Each of the future law students has an interesting personal story: Boos’ involves the influence of her parents’ longstanding missionary work abroad. Boos traveled to Tanzania as a toddler, and again repeatedly as youngster and teen, which influenced her to choose Saint Leo for the career preparation the university is providing her for international human rights law.
For Americans, the mention of Tanzania is more apt to bring to mind the famous mountain peak in the country, Kilimanjaro, the tallest in Africa. The nation overall spans an area twice the size of the state of California with a population of more than 50 million people, unevenly distributed across the geography, many still in rural areas.
Important Family Foundation
Tanzania, for Lauren Boos, is also the beautiful, memorable place where her parents started their married life, soon after Karene Fischer Boos earned a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy and Eric Boos earned a doctorate in philosophy and ethics to prepare for a life of college teaching.
“My parents were attending Marquette University when they were asked to come to Tanzania to help start a Catholic college,” Lauren Boos said. “One of my dad’s past professors wrote him a postcard saying ‘We’re in Tanzania; why aren’t you?’ This was their invitation to come to Tanzania to help start the college, and they accepted it. They were engaged to be married at that time. So they graduated from Marquette, got married, and left days later for Tanzania.”
Eventually the young married couple returned to Wisconsin and began their family, but never really left behind the people and the needs of the one-time British colony. Even as their family grew, the Booses kept going back with their children, who now number four. The Booses assisted missionaries with multiple human rights projects.
“The rights of pastoral people, as well, is a huge issue,” Boos said. “It is also always a two-pronged attack to make change. You must have people working on the ground on immediate advocacy as well as people on top, working hand-in-hand with government.”
None of this was easily accomplished. But the Booses sought a way to make themselves more effective advocates through education. While raising three young children, they each earned law degrees in the early 2000s at the University of Wisconsin. And Eric, in addition to the standard juris doctor, also earned a post-graduate law degree in international law and property. (Karene also earned a doctorate in physical therapy, which has a direct bearing on recent missionary work.)
“Now they work with each other, and they use their professional degrees in unison with being lawyers and lay missionaries to truly make a difference,” said Boos, who was still a toddler when her parents earned their law degrees.
Then came an email in 2012 that prompted the family to become involved in another matter in Tanzania—one that they had not known much about previously.
Call for Help from Afar
The correspondence was from Sister Helena Ntambulwa. She was trying to take care of children with albinism in her area and had limited means. She previously had come to know the Booses and their commitment to Tanzania and missionary work. She thought the Americans could help with much-needed fundraising and more. The children in her care were at terrible risk.
Albinism is a genetic problem. The patients lack enough of the protective pigment melanin for the skin, the hair, and the eyes, which puts those affected at risk of skin cancer. Low vision is usually present. Other ailments may occur as well, and patients often die at young ages. The disorder is found all over the world, but for some reason is more common in certain regions, including some African nations. Exposure to equatorial sunlight there intensifies the risks of skin cancers and burns.
Some people with albinism face social discrimination, too, and are stigmatized, researchers have confirmed.
And yet that was not the worst of what Sister Helena and her peers in other areas of Tanzania and neighboring nations were fighting. Witchcraft practitioners and traffickers who still hold sway in more rural areas continue to perpetuate false notions that those with albinism have special powers—and may be ghosts, but are not really people—that can be tapped by harvesting their body parts. This fiction can lead some parents to abandon their children. Even worse, it encourages bounty hunters to abduct, mutilate, and even murder people with albinism and sell the victims’ biological parts. Limbs have been amputated in some cases.
Such gruesome crimes were not openly acknowledged much, but Sister Helena and human rights organizations—the United Nations and Human Rights Watch and their investigators among them—heard credible accounts from survivors and parents of abducted and murdered children. Children are most at risk.
The nun started what Lauren calls “a safe haven” for children with albinism, The Perpetual Hope Center in the town of Lamadi. “Parents who want to keep their children safe will walk miles to take their children to the center. We try as much as possible to not make it necessarily an orphanage. We allow the parents to come and visit,” explained Boos, who was 12 or 13 when she became aware of this program. The first priority for the center was for the children to be safeguarded, nurtured, outfitted with protective attire and sunglasses, and educated by Sister Helena and her staff.
The Booses started a nonprofit in 2012 called ZeruZeru Inc. to support fundraising projects and grant work that funded expansions in the care and protective services for the children. Lauren was able to witness these on-ground developments and improvements during work trips to the center, where she interacted with the children. “They are so young and beautiful and innocent and in need of so much help,” she said.
As much as the high-schooler enjoyed being with children, she also was watching what her parents were able to do with their legal and political skills to expand the grounds and services of the haven and to influence societal views toward the children.
“We have had many powerful political leaders visit and work closely with us,” she said. Their support is needed to obtain permits for buildings and passage of local laws to protect those with albinism, she said. Others are performing similar work; advocates for those with albinism in Malawi, for instance, in 2016 urged their government to help supply fortified housing for those with albinism so they could be safer in their homes from violent home invasions.
Organically, it seemed, Boos was growing up determined to be a human rights attorney and faithful Catholic, like her parents. She considers her career choice the best option for promoting sustained justice.
Discovering Saint Leo
That was the plan she had formulated by her senior year of high school in Wisconsin, where she was a strong student and a four-sport athlete. She did not know about Saint Leo until a recruiter for women’s athletic teams introduced the topic. “It was too perfect for me,” she recalled. “We’re very strong Catholics, so Saint Leo was appealing that way, as well as the 3 + 3 law program, the perfect career path for me.”
The warm weather sounded good to the Midwestern athlete, too, who now swims competitively with the Lions women’s team.
As a 3 + 3 student, she opted to become a political science major, with the legal studies minor required of all participants in the accelerated pre-law program. The beauty of a 3 + 3 program is that it allows people who are certain that they want to become attorneys, and who are ready for the demands of extra work and big expectations, to save time and money on their educations. There is no way to shorten the three difficult years that it takes to earn a law degree. But Saint Leo has become one of the universities to offer the curriculum and advising needed to prepare students for the standard admission requirements of cooperating law schools in three years, instead of the traditional four. Saint Leo will award participating students their bachelor’s degrees once they have successfully completed their first year at a participating law school, which would be either Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee, or the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law in Orlando, FL. This saves the student and family a year of undergraduate tuition. Boos is planning on Florida State University.
Her professors in political science, criminal justice law, U.S. constitutional law, and international relations have all influenced and inspired her and are supportive of her goals, she said. As a group, they appreciate her work ethic, her consistency in being prepared for class, and her unique drive, said Dr. Heather Parker, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who personally works with the 3 + 3 pre-law students. Parker has served as an advisor to Boos, and is able to speak for the faculty in articulating the basis for their admiration of Boos. “She is embracing her nontraditional upbringing and bringing traditional tools to help populations in need.”
Boos is also grateful for the totality of the Saint Leo environment and the ways it has supported her journey. Her sense that she would be enriched by living on a Catholic campus has proven correct, she said. “It encourages me to integrate my faith experience and my lived experience as a missionary to Tanzania into my academic and social life on campus. I feel a natural and symbolic connection to the core values of the college and my own Catholic values. Saint Leo really lives up to its reputation for promoting a values-based education through the core values.”
Meanwhile, the junior is working part time keeping abreast of developments at the refuge, where about 75 children now reside. Boos was last able to travel to Tanzania in late 2017 during Saint Leo’s Christmas break. She has remained secretary of the nonprofit her family created to help fund the activities of the refuge.
Her parents continue to be effective, constructive supporters, who now alternate in their journeys abroad so that one parent can be at home with her younger siblings. Karene Boos has been able to add a physical therapy clinic to the haven. And the two women have been able to share some relevant experiences during non-school months.
During the summer, for instance, Lauren Boos traveled with her mother to the United Nations for an important conference on persons with disabilities; albinism is now classified by the United Nations as a disability, which improves the legal environment for obtaining protections for those with the condition. The UN and regional groups in Africa also began promoting June 13 as International Albinism Awareness Day, which should help alleviate some of the ignorance and suspicion patients face. In another 10 years, Boos has written, she hopes to be an attorney herself working with the United Nations on these issues and aiding in the prosecution of “those who have been responsible for the brutal killings of those with albinism.”
She is going into a stressful field, the 20-year-old acknowledged, and already she is balancing some challenging responsibilities, including earning money and carrying a heavy course load. Sports help, she said. “Doing something that I love like a sport is a release for me to forget the bad and be thankful for the good,” she said.
This year, as it is her third and final year at Saint Leo, she finds herself thinking of all “the lasts” as she encounters them, and takes a bit more time to relish the good feelings. “The last practice or meet with my team, the last trip to the library, the last class with my favorite professor, the last sunset at the dock,” she said. “You never believe when people tell you ‘It goes by fast,’ but it does. The last two years have been the best years, that I will cherish forever.”
The combination of emotional, personal, intellectual, and spiritual growth with pre-law studies can only help move her closer to her goal of becoming a human rights attorney with an international capacity to create good.
“I know that it is big, but I know what I need to do to get there,” she said. “People along the way have helped me. I truly think that I will get there.”