Before I visited the shelter, there was a lot on my mind. I was nervous of what impression the girls would have of me. I had heard so many great stories about these amazing girls from the Emerge team, and their genuine love of the girls was contagious and hearing about them constantly, I already loved them too. As I entered the shelter, I could hear the Programs staff conducting a lesson about the arithmetic side of beading bracelets and necklaces. We were asked to take the box of toys we had brought along with us up to the nursery. The kids had the biggest smiles on their little faces while we opened the box, and they each waited with patience so mature that I will never forget that moment. They loved the toys and were instantly having loads of fun with us. We took a walk around the shelter and distributed a few more toys to children. They took each toy with both hands and you could see their happiness and gratitude. We went back to the area where the girls were having their B2B lesson. I listened intently and stayed out of sight for a while, and slowly made an appearance. I was a new face to them. Most of the girls couldn’t hide their curiosity about me, and I saw their little expressions as I got my first glance of them. The mood was lightened up a bit as our programs staff asked them to guess my name, there were a few laughs and a lot of beaming faces – I felt a rush of relief while my introduction was happening. I felt their curious gaze on my face but what made me feel liberated was that they would always give me their brightest smile if we had a moment of eye contact. The lesson commenced again and I sat in the corner, learning about what they were learning. The programs staff did a wonderful job engaging everyone in the lesson; they kept the girls at ease, which made them comfortable to have me around as well. I noticed that the majority of the girls wanted to do well, but lacked a little bit of confidence to come up to the white board and write their answers. I kept having little contradictions in my mind – maybe I was smiling too much, or maybe I wasn’t – maybe they want me to talk to them, maybe they want space. Sitting there, I noticed that when called to the white board, they gave me a quick glance, and I gathered that they were just looking for an encouraging smile. I knew they were inquisitive of me and watched my every move. So I smiled, and mouthed encouragement to them to go up to the board and give it a crack. Mostly, it worked. I got the opportunity to help out a few girls with understanding the lesson, and I was so grateful that they were actually comfortable to sit next to me and listen to me. I had loved them before I met them, but meeting them, seeing them and hearing them made me learn a few certain things.
Constantly being around their stories and beautiful jewelry at office; I appreciated each girl and her courage. But meeting them in person gave me a lot of perspective, and a newfound respect and love towards them. Those emotions keep getting heightened and amplified.
I learnt that as a team member of Emerge, it immediately puts you in a place where the girls are not afraid to let you in… the boundaries between the girls and I dissolved in minutes because they know I am as much Emerge as they are. When I left the shelter, I did not feel like a stranger anymore. I was quite emotional while recollecting my thoughts about my visit. I felt blessed to see these beautiful girls, but more blessed to have them smile with me. Despite everything they have gone and are going through – I also saw brave girls, intelligent girls, resourceful girls, and hopeful girls, some on their path to becoming better girls. But these were certainties – they were all amazing, they were all beautiful and they were all survivors and warrior princesses. For as long as I have this blessing of an opportunity, I will work as hard as I can to let them feel that way, and go on a journey where they are confident about their precious lives. This is my privilege, and my honor to have met a few of the girls, and I will always tell their stories because they are now a part of my heart. Those smiles inspired me, and with that lasting impression, they have opened up a new part of my soul that will be theirs forever.