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“I learned, from these amazing girls, what it means to live with resilience and strength, but also w

By Charlotta Chung, Emerge Volunteer

I came back from Sri Lanka almost 3 months ago, but every day something reminds me of the remarkable girls I came to love in only a month’s time. Whenever I get dressed for the day, I put on a piece of Emerge jewelry and think about the girl who made it. When I turn on my computer, I see the group picture we took, right before we had to say good-bye, and think back to those days spent around the jewelry table and the laughter and the smiles I was so privileged to share with them.

I want to share an excerpt from my journal that I kept while in Sri Lanka. This was written only a week before we left, on the day when we brought 25 girls from another home to Ma-Sevana to make long necklaces.

There’s a verse from Isaiah 61:3 that I love. “Bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” I realized that despite the pain of these girls’ pasts, ashes, if you will, new life has sprung, and it’s vital and it’s beautiful and it’s truly amazing. I’m seeing beauty in their lives that I wouldn’t think was possible before I came here. In Chandrythka’s smile, Raluka’s laugh, and Sansara’s quiet intensity. The curiosity and innocence I see in the eyes of the babies the newer mothers bring into the workshop room. The joy in Vindanda’s eyes when I hold him or make funny faces with him. Beauty for ashes indeed.”

I learned, from these amazing girls, what it means to live with resilience and strength, but also what it means to have joy. My time in Sri Lanka gave me an understanding of the power that women gain from learning a skill, teaching it to others, and finding self-worth in it. That understanding was my joy to gain.

It has been my privilege to share the joy that I found in Sri Lanka with others here in the United States. At St. Lawrence University, my home campus, I’ve been able to do 4-5 presentations to groups about Emerge and the girls and the bead project, and each time, people come up to me and ask what they can do to contribute, whether monetarily or through their time or word of mouth. Through sales, over $1500 has been generated for the girls. But more important than the money is the community of support that has been built, and that I am blessed to be a part of.

Going around campus, every day I see girls wearing their Emerge jewelry, and I can hear them excitedly telling people where the jewelry was made, and for what purpose it was sold. I see brochures hung on doors, and I see the canvas sales bags used as change purses, always serving as reminders of where the jewelry came from and who its sales support. I am also in the process of working with others on this campus who were inspired by the stories of the girls at Ma-Sevana to figure out ways that we can further build a community of support for Emerge here at St. Lawrence University. I am confident that these girls will continue to touch the lives of those who hear their story, and I am so grateful that I was able to be there in Sri Lanka with them and could return to share that time with others.

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