Two days before a service trip to Tamil Nadu, India, Grace Harrington, MCAS ’19, was panicking. One of the three other students scheduled to go still didn’t have her travel visa. Intern visas had been harder to come by—she had called every embassy she knew to no avail. They just “put her back into the circle.” In a last attempt to save the trip, Harrington contacted the only woman she knew for the job: Elizabeth Warren.
Harrington knew people who had gone to their state representatives for help with passports and insurance. As she described it, they went to Warren and not someone lower because they “really had no time to spare.” Their last effort worked and, miraculously, with a little help from the senator, Sarah McCowan, CSON ‘19, got her intern visa pushed through.
Harrington and her group mates were traveling to Tamil Nadu, on the southeast tip of India, as a part of CORD (Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development), the Boston College chapter of GlobeMed. Started by a group of Northwestern graduates, GlobeMed sends interns all over the world and has expanded to more than 40 universities, accounting for 2,000-plus student members. When GlobeMed was started, the goal was to design a new model of improving the health of those living in underdeveloped countries. The BC chapter of GlobeMed sends a couple students a year to Tamil Nadu, in order to integrate social help programs in local communities.
Harrington made sure to emphasize that CORD is not another form of volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism,” and said that members of GlobeMed who attend this trip are more oriented on complementing CORD’s existing infrastructure.
“It’s [the locals’] job to tell us,” Harrington said. “We’re not there to tell them what they need, because we don’t know the complexities of their issues and what kind of health interventions would work and what would be pointless.”
BC’s GlobeMed sends a few interns every year to India to aid in this process through their internship, Grassroots Outreach Work, or GROW. Her junior year, Harrington was GlobeMed’s GROW coordinator. Harrington went on the CORD trip to India that year, along with three other students.
“[CORD’s work] is a holistic approach to world health,” Harrington said. “You can give someone a vaccine but [if] they don’t have food at home, [it’s no good].”
Harrington described her trip to India as jarring and rewarding. Though she was out of her comfort zone, she loved every second of it. Their primary contact was the only person who spoke fluent English. Harrington notes how every other person working with CORD spoke limited or no English. During the trip, Harrington and the other students would visit different villages and observe their Mahila Mandals, where the women of the village would discuss current issues. Harrington says the the women in these local villages are the crucial for what CORD does.
“If you get the mothers of the village better health education and teach them how to advocate for themselves and make products they can sell, that permeates into the entire community,” she said.
The community development workers who are hired by CORD are mostly women from these local villages. This creates a more trusting bond between CORD and the villagers, as they are interacting with people from their own community.
It’s much more effective to see someone from within your village spreading the information, Harrington explains. In these meetings, the women in the village decide the issues that need to be discussed, creating self-sufficiency within the community. Furthermore, the women in the village who worked with CORD know the specific issues that need to be addressed in their community. If a village needs better electricity, CORD can teach the women of the village how to petition the government.
Even before her involvement with CORD and GlobeMed, Harrington had a desire to help those in need. Before BC, she was a typical high schooler, and like most teenagers, she played sports and joined clubs. Unlike others, though, she distinguished herself by using these mediums to help less fortunate children.
“I’ve always been drawn to vulnerable populations,” Harrington said. “I don’t have an interest in working for someone who doesn’t really need it.”
In high school, Harrington was part of a club that hosted sports programs throughout the year for kids with disabilities. In the towns neighboring Harrington’s, the opportunity for children with disabilities were few and far between. The sports programs Harrington was a part of providing a great opportunity for the children, as most of the small towns’ sports teams simply couldn’t accommodate them. She talked about her experience while being an aid for a boy with Down syndrome.
“All he ever wanted to do was play sports,” she said. “He hated to run, but all he ever wanted to do was play sports. It’s great that he got that opportunity.”
Harrington considered BC for undergrad because of the distance—taking a plane to college was not what she had in mind. Before making the final decision, Harrington attended Admitted Eagle Day and shadowed a psychology information session. At the time, she was very focused on neuroscience. Harrington was particularly attracted to the psychology B.S. program because it fulfilled all the requirements for the medical school.
Harrington’s interest in service followed her from high school to college. When she first arrived at BC, she joined First Year Service Program. Harrington enjoyed her ability to help those in need during this time. First Year Service Program places students at local institutions where they provide any aid necessary. In her freshman year, Harrington was placed at The Edison School tutoring the students. As she describes it, it was a large after-school program that essentially carries kids from elementary school to college.
“A lot of these kids need extra support,” Harrington said. “Whether it’s study hall or tutoring or extra classes or even just getting a nutritious meal.”
Though she enjoyed being in First Year Service Program, Harrington decided to join GlobeMed her sophomore year. Almost by luck, she found them at the involvement fair. She had a friend in the club, and thought it might be worth it to join. At her first meeting, she was pleasantly surprised to find that she knew many more faces in GlobeMed than she thought she did. At that point, Harrington knew she had made the right decision.
Her first year, she was a general member. At the end of her sophomore year, she applied to be on the executive board and was made the GROW coordinator. This year, Harrington is the communication director for GlobeMed, which is a very different position than the one she held before. She’s more comfortable running communications, but she’ll always remember her position as GROW coordinator with fondness.
Even though she’s not entirely sure what path she’s going down, she’s positive she wants to do something related to public health. Whether that means working for a non-profit, doing post-grad volunteer work, or getting a master’s in public health, Harrington wants to help others.
“There’s a lot of clinical mental health needs in underserved populations,” she said. “That’s my priority, to work with them. My end goal has always been the same, it’s just where I fit most effectively in this realm.”
Featured Image by Sam Zhai /Heights Staff