By Nirukshi de Lanerolle
As I am a veteran at planning parties, retreats, and reunions, this time, too, I was excited to organize the reunion for the past participants of Emerge Lanka Foundation. Of course, Iro plans the activities for the girls and I get to organize the venue, games, transport, and contacting the girls.
I started preparing over 2 months before the date we had actually planned the reunion, by going through all the telephone numbers I had, calling all the girls and finding out if they were free to participate and telling them that we would love to have them at the reunion. While some were excited to participate, others found it difficult to come all the way from the far out places they were living, even though we promised to reimburse their traveling costs. (Most girls live out station and some take at least 6 to 7 hours traveling time.)
However, I managed to get 20 girls to confirm, but only 16 of them participated, as a few had unexpected issues that came up suddenly and were unable to attend.
This time, the best rate I got from the numerous hotels and guest houses I made inquiries from was the place we went to last time. We were happy to go there, as it is a beautiful hideout and very quiet. We have the whole place to ourselves, a very nice thing, as the girls feel very relaxed and happy with their babies.
I organized a huge bus for us to travel from Emerge headquarters to the hotel and vice versa; all of us traveled in it, while a few of them found it easy to come straight to the hotel and arrived a little earlier than us. On the way, we had to pick up a few others. We had participants who started as early as 3.30 in the morning to meet us they traveled form Matara, Galle, Kurunegala, Kandy, Avissawella, and Chilaw. Some of the participants had 2 babies and the youngest was only 4 months old.
It was so nice to meet them after a long time and the girls were so excited that they met their friends after many years, as some of them came for the first time since they left the shelter.
Once we arrived and after a welcome drink, I gave them the option to select the rooms they wanted and choose the friends to share their rooms, as we had participants from 4 homes. After a while of freshening up, relaxing, and exploring the beautiful hotel, we met for lunch. Towards late afternoon the girls got into the pool and enjoyed themselves, some knew how to swim and taught others how to; some of the kids splashed as well.
In the evening, we had a celebration, as two of the girls had their birthdays in February; a cake was cut and, as tradition holds, everybody was fed with one piece of cake by the birthday girls and loads of photographs were taken.
Before dinner, we met at the hall where Iro spoke to the girls and did one of her activities. She spoke about healthy relationships and, thereafter, we played a few games. The girls enjoyed passing the hat for the music, dancing stars, and the best dancers were chosen. We had a special item where Udani dressed as a Japanese girl and did a special act, which was a welcome surprise.
After dinner, the girls went into their rooms and watched TV and chatted until the wee hours of the morning. The next day, we had breakfast and met for the next session of activities. The girls enjoyed the Tree of Life and the My Life activity which Iro conducted. I spoke to them about how to spend your money wisely and how they must save and about the fixed deposit schemes that most banks could offer them.
As I had received some generous donations from sponsors, many gifts and prizes were shared equally among the girls and, as Emerge had promised, all of them were presented with photo albums! As a welcome surprise, I had a few photos which I had taken years back of the girls, which I inserted in the album and gave them. They were so exited and happy; however, we promised them that each of them would be sent a few photos by post, so that they could put them into the album we gave them and keep them as a memory.
The day went so fast and soon it was time for us to have lunch and leave. Some of them said their goodbyes sooner as their families came and picked them up from the hotel, however, most of us came back to Emerge headquarters as the families were awaiting their arrival in Colombo.
It was a wonderful and most memorable experience! The girls were so happy and thanked Emerge for organizing such a wonderful reunion, some of them presented us with thank you cards and gifts and the seniors who knew Alia gave me cards to be posted to her.