As I glance over Sarasi’s shoulder to look at her long, colorful necklace, I feel a tug at my back pocket. “Auntie, auntie.” I turn around and glance down to Yohan, my three-year-old trouble maker. His hair is oiled and his apricot and maroon daycare uniform is neatly pressed. His bow tie (yes, bow tie) is cheerful like his smile. He has managed to escape from daycare next door. He looks up with a mischievous grin. He knows he isn’t supposed to be here and he also knew that I adore him. Will I make him go back to school? I take his hand, “Yohan, I have class. Let’s go back to school. Come on, it’ll be fun.” He wraps his hand around my finger as we walk back, with him taking giant strides through the grass, his bare feet stomping playfully.
As we step into Sarvodaya’s beautiful new daycare center, he clings to my leg. I try to leave but he wont let go. He finally lets go but as I walk out the door he comes running. “Auntie, Auntie! Alia miss!” he shouts as he runs back and clings to my legs. He grabs my hand and gestures towards the classroom where we are conducting a beading workshop. He begins to tug at my arm until he nearly falls over. “OK, Yohan. You win.”
Yohan spent the day wheeling his tricycle around our table, climbing in and out of the plastic tubs we have to hold our many jars of beads, and climbing into my arms to make faces as me. By 1pm, he was so exhausted that he wrapped his small arms around my neck as I talked to the girls counselor and passed out with his head on my shoulder.
Our first day of beading workshops was fabulous. The girls worked all day on their jewelry, not even wanting to take a break for lunch. Nirukshi, our Bead Program Coordinator, was there and so was Charlotta. More than a class, we were a group of women working together, learning from and supporting one another. Nanda, a program participant, helped both Nirukshi and Charlotta with their jewelry technique. Despite helping to run the program, jewelry is new to both of them. Nanda sat patiently between them, explaining how to finish their long necklaces. I grinned, watching the small girl sweetly guiding them. I walked around the table, checking the girls’ work and commenting on their consistently beautiful color choices. I was thrilled to see that the girls not only had their beading books that I made them last time (pictorial guides of all of our products), but that they used them to explain the project to girls who were new to the program. There wasn’t much for me to do. Let me pause there. For the first time, there wasn’t much for me to do. The girls ran the class on their own.
I remembered back to the days when we first began the workshops two and a half years ago. We had all sat clustered in a dark room without a fan. My perspiration had been like small rivers, running down my face and back. Children were screaming and the girls tried to learn their techniques while nursing or chasing their children around the room. I did my best to explain the projects without a translator. Even the simplest tasks seemed monolithic. Today was different. The children were happy at Sarvodaya’s new daycare (well, except for Yohan who was happily trying to get my attention as he climbed on chairs and followed me around). The room was well-lit and airy. The girls were experts to the products and worked on their pieces, thrilled to have new beading supplies. As I commented on the work and ways it could be improved, older girls would help translate and explain to the newcomers, knowing how the products should be completed.
One of the newcomers reminded me greatly of a girl who left our program this year. Now I know why. Chathuri is Gayesha’s sister and both were impregnated by their father. They were removed from their home a year ago, along with their two little sisters. The youngest two are now at a girls’ home, too young to be pregnant. But Chathuri sat in class with me yesterday, strong yet delicate like her sister. These girls are so strong, so brave, so beautiful. I know I say that nearly every time I write but there are no words to truly convey how remarkable they are, how much they have been through and how much they can achieve with their tremendous strength. Every time I work with them, I feel more humbled and inspired, knowing they are capable of so much. Their ability to love, support, and nurture despite horrific abuse is phenomenal.
Nirukshi is such a gift and asset to our program. She is more than a supervisor and coordinator; she is our girls’ advocate. She loves the girls dearly and has come to work with them each and every week since I left last May. She has brightened their lives, taken them on trips, and made sure that they each have what they need. Today she had a minor car accident. And yet, shaken as she was, she still came for our workshop. Her anxiety melted away throughout the day as she laughed with the girls, checked their work, and learned from them. Beading has brought us all together, it has built a strong a loving community and made us all friends, supporters, family. It carries us all forward, enabling us to forget our worries and concerns, our hardships and pains, and building a reality that is beautiful, relaxing, peaceful and truly transformational.