Two WU students share insights on health care reform efforts in India

by University Communications,

Henry Harrison '13 and Shannon Waltz' 14 read about poverty in textbooks and discussed it in class.

But they didn't truly understand its meaning until they traveled to India this past summer with economics professor Raechelle Mascarenhas.

Through a grant from the Center for Asian Studies, the trio spent more than two weeks in the state of Jkarkhand, where they learned about a government program designed to promote women and children's health.

On Oct. 1, Harrison and Waltz presented their findings to fellow economics majors on campus.

"Most of the programs were localized, which was a huge step in the right direction," Harrison said. People were innovative, checking on multiple schemes to see if they worked. They were always trying to improve the system.

While in India, Harrison, Waltz and Mascarenhas learned about the Integrated Child Development Scheme. Funded by India's government, the program's intent is to tackle malnutrition and health problems for women and their children, aged 6 and younger.

To that end, the three met various program stakeholders including beneficiaries, government officials and staff with UNICEF, the program's international partner. They also visited local preschools and health centers.

Some of the most memorable stops included tours of Kasturba Gandhi schools for girls, which are government-funded boarding schools for females from poor households. These schools, Mascarenhas said, helps prevent girls from marrying young or being sold as domestic help.

"They saw poverty at its darkest" Mascarenhas said about her students. In many ways, they learned a lot about life in a completely different place.

For Harrison, the trip gave him clarity on his career goals — which is why he’s joining the Peace Corps and heading to Ecuador in January. Afterward, he intends to pursue his master's in international development.

"It definitely made me feel like I'm in the right area, and this is what I want to do," he said. "The trip was very eye opening. It's hard to complain, once you come out of a place like India.

Waltz, who is earning her MBA through the Atkinson Graduate School of Management's 3-2 program, agrees. She says she didn't experience culture shock when she traveled to India, but she did when she returned to the United States.

If anything, she said the trip taught her to appreciate everything she once took for granted.

"Here, you have everything handed to you on a silver platter. It was kind of jarring to be back," she said. "It's humbling to see so much poverty and destitution. It hurts your heart, but you have to focus on the positive and have hope for the next day."