Emerge Global is a community dedicated to Collaborative Capital Creation for girls who’ve demonstrated resiliency in the face of sexual abuse and limited support systems. Emerge believes that by supporting these girls in developing their own personal, social, and financial capital through business and life skills training, mentorship, and savings generation, that they will be able to live healthy, self-sufficient lives and become leaders of change in the issues that matter most to them. Our Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Action Grant is enabling us to bring our programs to 20 new girls at a time who live in a shelter in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Launching this expansion just three weeks ago, we’re excited to be reaching what is now our third shelter in Sri Lanka. Our work in this shelter targets girls between the ages of 15 and 18, who have been abused. Some are pregnant or have already had babies as a result of this abuse. They live in the shelter while a court case continues against their abuser. They don’t know when they are going to leave; their time at the shelter is indefinite and could last years.
On our first day of class with these courageous girls, we met a girl who had been sent to this shelter from another home we work in. She was excited to have the opportunity to work with Emerge again and her eyes continue to light up when she sees us walk into the room. As we’ve quickly found out, she’s not the only one who’s excited! The girls tell us that they count down the days and minutes until we come back. They are always on time, sitting excitedly with all of their supplies organized in front of them, waiting for us to begin. In our first workshops, we found that the girls were initially very intimidated by teachers. At first, they only spoke to us about their mistakes. But Iroshini, our Program Development Officer and the core trainer during their life skills workshops, chose to speak to the girls about a social issue that is close to her heart: the importance of educating children. If there was ever any doubt of what the girls thought of Emerge to this point, this speech put it to rest. They relaxed. Following Iroshini’s speech, the girls were asked to break into teams and discuss a problem in their society and outline how they would help address it. Two groups spoke about taking care of the environment, speaking passionately about the dangers of dengue, the harms of pollution, the benefits of recycling, and the need for communities to work together to sort garbage. Another group spoke intelligently on HIV/AIDS and the need to raise awareness about how it is transmitted and how to protect oneself. That group also addressed myths associated with HIV/AIDS, explaining to the class that it cannot be transmitted through touch, despite what many people believe. The final group spoke about child abuse and child labor. They described how many children are taken as servants and never allowed to leave the home or go to school. They talked to the group about the importance of children getting an education, and how it is wrong that children are denied this right.
We’ve also launched our Beads-to-Business Program with the girls, a program in which we use jewelry design as a therapeutic and practical teaching tool to teach the girls to set up and operate their own businesses unrelated to jewelry. Through this program we operate a bank and store simulation, where girls learn about strategic decision making, budgeting and banking. The girls have already learned about the Emerge store voucher system and how to deposit checks into the bank. They calculated the costs of beads that they hand-selected for their first bracelets, and completed their bracelets using ingenious ways to manage the wire and ensure that it didn’t get tangled. As each one finished her first bracelet she held it up for the Emerge teachers to see. “Beautiful!!” we responded over and over again. They then wrapped the bracelet around their wrist and shared the beauty of their jewelry with one another, their faces beaming with pride. From the very beginning of the program the girls have taken a liking to beading. They always ask us if they can make more jewelry and it is easy to recognize the sense of accomplishment they feel as they proudly wave their completed piece in the air for all to see. Inevitably, the workshops come to a close with the girls surrounding Emerge teachers, counting down the days until we are back again, thanking us for coming, and flashing their wide smiles for us to remember until we return.