I arrived in Sri Lanka three weeks ago and it has been an exciting start to my new role with Emerge. I’ve had the opportunity to meet the Emerge team here in Sri Lanka, meet our partners and friends, learn how to make jewelry, help plan our upcoming reunion for past participants, and— most importantly— spend seven workshops with the girls.
It is hard to articulate everything I thought and felt the first day I met the girls. When we arrived at the first home I was struck by the sight of such small children attached to such large pregnant bellies (in many cases 8 or 9 months pregnant). I say “attached” because that was how it looked, and it was a hard visual for my brain to make sense of. Physically, the girls are smaller than my 12 year old cousin. Walking into the home I knew why the girls were there, but as they looked at me shyly it hit me like a ton of bricks: someone did this to them. Their eyes reflected a strange and unfamiliar look of youth, intrigue, guardedness, depth and something else… a je ne sais quoi that filled my heart with a sense of their struggle and strength. There was no toughness— only softness. In one room there were three girls each holding their babies who were 1-2 mths old beside little bassinets with mosquito nets hung over them. I have worked with many vulnerable youth, but the softness of these girls is unique and heart-wrenching. When I returned a week later, a new baby had been born— on my birthday, no less! Seeing that precious little newborn baby with her young mother, who is still a child herself, filled me with emotions that I still have a hard time articulating.
The second home had a much different feel. The girls were extremely energetic and after the beading workshop they pulled me outside and taught me how to dance in the typical Sri Lankan style. After that we had some flipflop foot races (one girl even beat me!) and an impromptu cricket game (my first!). I felt immediately connected to them and I left the home exhausted and exhilarated.
During my first visit to each of the homes I was also struck by just how much the girls were learning! They were filling out vouchers with the number and cost of beads, measuring the length of their necklaces, calculating one another’s bead budgets, conferring with each other over color choices, teaching each other how bank deposits and withdrawals work, revising their personal jewelry designs based on feedback, and completing worksheets on topics such as safe spending habits, cost of living, fixed costs, marketability, competition, and profit margins! It was more impressive than I had ever expected.
Other firsts for me since arriving in Sri Lanka: eating with my hands, making milk out of powder, sleeping under a mosquito net, riding in a tuk tuk (motorized three wheeler), putting cereal in the freezer to keep the ants away, watching geckos (and other less appealing creatures) scurry across the kitchen floors and walls, boiling water before drinking it, drinking out of a coconut… the list goes on!
I’m having an amazing time— I’m learning a lot and I am excited to be a part of such a dynamic, hardworking, genuine, innovative and effective organization. I can’t wait to tell you about the reunion we just had and the community fund project… I’ll have to save that for the next blog.
Thanks for all your support!