In an African country thousands of miles from her home, Grace Sharritt solidified her life's mission—to empower women and children and put an end to human trafficking.
As an Honors College student studying social work, Sharritt, '14, spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Ghana, a country she says is in desperate need of social reform. In August 2011, Sharritt began her courses in social work at the University of Ghana and shortly after started an internship as a caseworker at the Enslavement Prevention Alliance in West Africa.
The role she played was both challenging and eye-opening, as Sharritt interacted with women and children whose life stories reinforced her reason for working in such an unfamiliar, foreign place.
"In one case, I befriended a girl who was being threatened to marry a man and so I accompanied her to the domestic violence institution," says Sharritt, a Fortville, Indiana, native. "Now, she’s no longer in danger of forced marriage and is going to college."
In her sophomore year, Sharritt conducted counseling sessions, tutored girls living in shelters and wrote a proposal for why the West African country needed to create its first sex offender registry. She also participated in a men's march in Ghana's capital city of Accra to raise awareness about violence against women.
"Ghana really needs positive male role models saying violence against women is not OK," says Sharritt, who is a member of Ball State's Free the Slaves and its Social Justice League, two organizations dedicated to practicing their commitment to social justice.
In her second semester abroad, Sharritt spent spring 2012 continuing her coursework and writing a 50-page paper on gender-based violence as part of an independent study under the direction of Ball State classics professor Chris Shea. Sharritt will present the paper at the National Collegiate Honors Council meeting in Boston in November 2012 and is working with Shea to get it published.
“Grace has come to a deep understanding of a dire social problem, and she has taken steps to do something about it,” Shea says, noting that Sharritt's online journal of her time in Africa "should be required reading for every student wanting to study abroad."
Sharritt credits her experiences in Ghana for reinforcing her aspirations of earning a master's degree in social work and law degree so as to not just work with trafficking victims but create social policy on their behalf. But those 10 months in Africa also helped her learn a lot about herself.
"It was a long time to be away from everything familiar to me. It made me hit the reset button on my life and learn to do things differently," she says.
Sharritt hopes to someday return to Ghana and continue her work there. She says her experiences as an Honors College student and a Whitinger Scholar have opened doors for her and a future career as a humanitarian.
"Had I not gotten the Whitinger Scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to attend Ball State," says Sharritt. "None of what I accomplished there and want to continue working toward would have been possible."