I arrived exactly one week ago and there is so much to say. It’s hard to know where to begin. This week, I met 34 new girls and greeted two familiar faces. Ma-Sevana is smaller than usual. They only have 13 girls right now, many of whom are pregnant. The second home we work in is located in Panadura, a bit farther south. I had not seen the Panadura home since my site visits last August, when we decided we wanted to open our Program for the girls there. It’s both exciting and strange to meet so many new girls. I’m thrilled to see that the program has grown over the year and that it is working beautifully for an entirely new batch of participants. But, it was also weird to find myself facing a group of girls who only knew me by name. What a strange feeling. We have so much trust to establish. It will take time, but I cannot wait to get to know each one of them. The Ma-Sevana girls were quiet, meticulous in their work, and studious in their approach. The Panadura girls were boisterous. They shouted “Fist pump! Fist pump!” at me when I arrived. Jennifer explained that for several months the girls always wanted to hold her hand. She found herself continuously with a cold so, after a while, she instituted a new rule: instead of hand-holding, they would gently punch her fist when they saw her and say “fist pump!” I ignored the rule temporarily and found myself hugging them and holding hands within minutes. Sure enough, I’ve had a low grade sore throat ever since. Guess Jennifer was right but it was worth it. I only hope I didn’t get head lice. The Panadura girls greeted us with a surprise for Jennifer. It was her last time seeing the girls before she left Sri Lanka for the US and they had prepared several dances in her honor. Words were spoken, dances performed, gifts given… and then the formal ceremony evolved into a very informal dance party. First it was Jennifer and the girls. Then, I joined them. Then, the girls ran over to drag Nirukshi up. Even she joined in! Soon we were all dancing– Rachael, our Country Director, Iroshini, our newest staff person, Chari and his kids, long-time supporters of Emerge who were visiting that day. Everyone was dancing. They showed us their dance moves and laughed at ours. So much laughter. It was wonderful.
Over a team lunch, I caught up with SR, a former Bead Program participant who now helps with our workshops twice a week. I was very excited to hear that, in addition to work with us, she has continued to be very entrepreneurial. She currently is an Agent for a cosmetics company in Sri Lanka that has a similar model to Avon where purchases are made through catalogs. She helps a very experienced Agent with product deliveries. She also has been helping a farm owner sell milk on a consignment basis. With the money she has earned through Emerge, as well as her new micro-enterprise activity, she hopes to purchase a small plot of land and build a simple wooden hut. Her long-term goal is to replace this hut with her very own house that she will build. She’s close to having enough savings to buy the land so my hope is we can help her ensure the deeds are clear and purchase the land before I go! Fingers crossed! It’s so great to see our girls dreaming big and us being able to help them get there.
I’ve known our work is powerful but every time I come back, I’m more convinced that we will have a long-term impact with these girls who are now an important part of our growing family. But, with the wonderful news, there is always the challenging. Life in Sri Lanka is intense– I always feel that I’m emotionally stretched to every extreme… I live more fully here. But that also means that with greater happiness, there is more pain and frustration. I found out yesterday that SR’s three-year-old son has been hospitalized with dengue, a mosquito-borne virus that causes high fever, joint pain, and rashes. It can be extremely severe without proper treatment. She’s staying with him at the hospital right now until he finishes his course of treatment. The hospital doesn’t seem keen to have visitors but Nirukshi (our Bead Program Coordinator) is going to do her best to use her charming self to get in today. Hopefully, she will secure a guest pass so I can visit tomorrow. I will keep you all posted. In the meantime, please send warm thoughts their way.