3 different languages: Sinhala, English, and Sign Language. The workshop was alive beyond the structure that any one language could impose. On this hot and humid Monday, the girls who I had trained over the past two years transformed into teachers for 25 other young women from a variety of backgrounds.
The table was full…full of beads and supplies, hearing aids and crutches, small children and pregnant bellies, nimble fingers and smiles. “Today is the day for you to pass on what you have learned,” I told them as the girls all sat excitedly around the table. “You are a guide, a teacher.” And so it was that Medani turned into “Medani Miss” and Suneetha turned into “Suneetha Miss” and on and on. As I spoke to the girls and Nirukshi our Bead Program Coordinator translated, I watched as others signed to the girls who were deaf. I then watched as they explained the techniques to the newcomers in Sinhala with various gestures. Each level of communication was slightly different, adapted to the individual on the other end. I realized yet again that communication is simply a term that lumps the many facets of connection. Beyond the words and the symbols, there was love, hope, and encouragement. We were 50 women working together, learning from and teaching one another.
I’m not sure how to describe our remarkable workshop. I was struck by the attention each new teacher gave to her student, handling each with remarkable care and gentle guidance. Moreover, I was happy to see that even girls who have chosen to take shortcuts when making their own jewelry made sure that their students created the pieces correctly. I witnessed the power that teaching has in reinforcing skills.
Medani stood behind two girls, a fuchsia ribbon dangling around her neck to mark the length of the final product. Resting her arm on another girls’ shoulder, she carefully explained how to create the necklace. Occasionally she would glance up and call “Alia Miss” for help and I would look at her and call “Medani Miss” to remind her that she is the teacher now. I offered guidance when needed but she would laugh and look back down, having received the assurance she needed to move forward.
Nobody wanted to take her lunch or tea. There was an enthusiasm in the room unlike any that I had seen before. The Emerge Bead Program was building more than community in Ma-Sevana. It was breaking down barriers between women of different backgrounds; it was enabling the persevering girls who I had met two years before to become community resources. I suddenly realized the potential of such a simple program to affect change that was bigger than I had ever imagined possible. It was not only building the self-esteem of the young women and community of Ma-Sevana, it was paving the way for reintegration into communities that would see and appreciate each of woman’s individual strength, contribution, and value.