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Turlock native questions world leaders on pandemic response
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Turlock native Henna Hundal (pictured bottom left) and her Bridging Borders Project co-founder Sai Rajagopal interview President George Vella of Malta about his country’s pandemic response.

Since leaving Turlock to attend Harvard College in 2015, former Bulldog academic standout Henna Hundal has now graduated and dedicated her life to research that combines the best of science with the brightest of political policy. Her work has never been more important than during the coronavirus pandemic, which inspired Hundal to create a multinational collaboration she hopes can help combat COVID-19.

Along with fellow Harvard alum Sai Rajagopal, Hundal co-founded the Bridging Borders Project in May to examine the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in different countries, from the policy measures taken to curb its spread to the various outcomes each nation has experienced as a result. So far, Hundal has interviewed 40 world leaders as part of the initiative — including heads of state and government across the European Union, the Caribbean and South Asia — to coordinate health policy plans that meet the challenges of the pandemic.

“We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and the severity and toll of the pandemic in terms of transmission rates, deaths and overall cost to each country’s infrastructure has varied across the globe,” Hundal said. “The goal of the project has been to elucidate different policy measures and different outcomes the countries have had to compare how some leaders have successfully managed this pandemic.”

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Turlock High alumna and Harvard College graduate Henna Hundal has interviewed 40 world leaders as part of a project she co-founded to examine the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in different countries.

Hundal and Rajagopal hope that the Bridging Borders Project, which has released eight episodes so far, can serve as a tool for U.S. policy makers and the general public which allows them to see policies and responses to the pandemic that have worked well in other countries. The pair has also had a front row seat in seeing how different countries, like Tibet and India, have coordinated their efforts in order to tackle the virus head on.

“It’s been interesting to get a picture of how cooperation has been crucial to managing the pandemic in some of these places,” Hundal said. “It’s amazing to see how some of these leaders have been proactive in reigning in the spread. We are compiling that information in one place which can hopefully serve as a useful indicator where the U.S. can look moving forward.”

Of all the conversations she’s had so far, Hundal said her interview with President George Vella of Malta was the most enlightening. He shared with the Bridging Borders Project his fear that the pandemic is placing new, additional strains on the already-rampant refugee crisis.

“It’s anticipated that there will be a huge influx of displaced people as a result of this crisis and a lack of resources in their home countries,” she said. “The EU might have to work together to develop policies to manage the large influx and distribute resources more broadly. Vella is managing the pandemic in Malta, but also what the pandemic means in terms of consequences that might come to fruition a decade or two from now.”

The project has shown Hundal plenty about the need for countries to work together when facing problems, she said, but also that morale is key to helping a community make it through these tough times — something she learned while interviewing the First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid. She also believes her interviews with leaders help recognize countries who are doing an incredibly effective job in handling the pandemic, but receive little recognition in the media.

For example, the country of Bhutan was able to deploy resources so effectively that they have not suffered a single COVID-19 death.

“It’s really important not to stay insular and hear a wider perspective, especially in the midst of something like a pandemic that requires a global, coordinated response,” Hundal said. “We’ve been able to shine a light on some places in the world that aren’t receiving enough attention or credit but have been successful in managing the pandemic…it’s not a story you’ll hear a lot about in traditional media, but I think it’s important to highlight because there are fruitful lessons in it. We want to point out these leaders and their efforts that deserve more credit.”

Moving forward, Hundal said she would love to focus on leaders in North America and how coordination could help their own response to the pandemic.

“Coordination in this region of the world could be crucial, especially considering how the U.S. is a pandemic hotspot,” she said.

This isn’t Hundal’s first foray into research; at Harvard, she served as a researcher in the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and The Harvard Health Policy Review, but one of her first bylines was in the Turlock Journal when she served as a youth correspondent during her time at Turlock High School.

When the Journal featured Hundal for her accomplishments as valedictorian and acceptance into Harvard in 2015, she said she hoped to pursue a career combining science and journalism. Five years later, with a Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology degree in hand, she is accomplishing that dream one interview at a time.

“It’s interesting. I think I’ve certainly had a nonlinear path, but it’s been wonderful in exposing me to all sorts of opportunities I never could have envisioned one year, two years and now five years later. I can’t believe I’m able to be here and do this awesome project,” Hundal said. “It’s great to look back and have a reminder of the impact coming from a place like Turlock has had, and the support of the community is something I always carry with me.”

To learn more about the Bridging Borders Project or to watch an episode, find them on Twitter (@bridgingproject), Instagram (@bridgingbordersproject) or via their website,