Today Rachael was introduced to our girls in Sri Lanka, and it turned into one of the most hectic, emotional workshops she could have visited.
Hectic because the workshop wasn’t run like normal. We are about to change the workshop bead colors from Spring/Summer to Fall/Winter, so instead of handing out new beads we only collected products, and asked the girls to finish up their current supplies before next week. Hence Rachael didn’t get to see the Emerge Store and Bank in action.
Emotional because we found out about one girl who had left, two more that would be leaving within the next week, and the girls found out that I would be leaving in a little less than two months. Nirukshi and I organized a birthday party (my birthday was the day before, July 12th) for the girls, complete with balloons, noisemakers, cake, and “buns” (i.e. burgers) from McDonald’s that Nirukshi had gotten for free by filling out 20 comment cards. Rachael was introduced as the new Country Director, with Nirukshi explaining that I would be leaving in the near future. As soon as this was said the mood in the room changed, with two girls beginning to cry. It broke my heart to see them unhappy, and also forced me to think about leaving in a way that I had subconsciously been avoiding.
The party was overall a success: the girls loved their buns and party favors, and I even followed the Sri Lankan tradition of feeding everyone, including Nirukshi and Rachael, a bite of cake.
Things became more serious again towards the end of the workshop when one of the girls told me she would be leaving to go home within the week. Tears were streaming down her face when she looked at me and said “Ellen Miss, don’t forget me.” I pointed to her, and then to my heart. “I won’t.” When the Emerge team piles into the car to leave Ma Sevana the girls will usually wave us goodbye. Today this certain girl kept waving until we were out of sight, not breaking eye contact with me until the gate closed behind Nirukshi’s car and we were back on the road.
After visiting Ma Sevana we usually stop by the Vocational Training Center (VTC) where many past program participants learn English, computers, how to sew, and other useful vocations. When we arrived, we were told that another one of our girls was going home. In her case, she was being sent to an aunt’s house, and she looked worried and scared when she spoke about her uncertain future. She had been living away from her family, and society, for over four years. And for the second time today I heard “Don’t forget me.”
I’ve become so intertwined in these girls lives that it’s hard to imagine not remembering them. But many times, like this afternoon, I realize they are more realistic and grounded than I am. I came to Sri Lanka with the hope that I could make their lives better, and I’d like to think I have. But at the end of the day, these girls know that while people come, they also leave. And where I am going none of them will be able to follow. It’s something that hits me hard, to think of these girls as sisters and realize that they will never visit me, and that if I am to see them again it is my responsibility to get myself back to Sri Lanka. “Don’t forget me.” They say this because not forgetting is my responsibility. They understand that between the both of us I’m the one who is moving on, who will have the capacity, and ability, to forget.