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Of painting pictures and possibility

This is my first official blog entry as an Emerge programs volunteer and I’d like to introduce myself. I am a Sri Lankan who grew up in Nigeria and currently a doctoral student at MIT, taking a semester off from school this fall and spending it in my beautiful island home. I am a biological engineer interested in vaccines, public health, public policy, and probably just about everything else under the sun (albeit to different degrees). But most of all, I am very very human.

Over the past four weeks, I have visited our girls four times. As I learn about my work with Emerge this fall and how I can help, I feel as if I haven’t been able to catch my breath after hitting the ground running (the way you feel right after scrambling off a Colombo bus that is bursting at its seams during rush hour, riding with one arm holding tight onto the railing just inside and the other arm hanging just outside the open door). Analogy aside, there is a tremendous amount we can do – which is also the beauty of this project.

During our last visit, I sat at the big red table observing the girls as they moved so expertly around the bead workshop. Some were at the front of the room, as Nirukshi quality-checked and logged their newest jewelry and gave them ‘bank’ vouchers for their next pieces. Some were at the ‘bank’, steps away within our work room, checking their available balances as to how many new beads they could purchase. And some were at the ‘shop’, choosing their new sets of beads, the small red ones, the cloudy square ones, the oblong pearls, among the many jars laid out.

If you peek into our work space around mid-day, it will likely take you a minute or two to take in everything happening at once. Perhaps this first glance will allow you to paint one type of picture. Furrowed brows and clever fingers, bright smiles and creative designs, long black hair and printed dresses. It speaks of eagerness, youth, beauty, possibility. Now, especially after noon or so, please come by and look again. This time, you’ll have to add a few things to your picture – the wide-eyed babies on the hips of some mothers after the daycare hours close for the morning, the tummy bumps under the dresses of other mothers-to-be, the one toddler who always runs out of kindergarten and crawls along the table, adding his constant garbled commentary to every conversation. If you retrace his steps, you can find me in one of my favorite places of the home, the kindergarten full of some of the friendliest toddlers I have ever met in my life. You will find every limb occupied as you do your best to hold every wriggling little person close, simultaneously admiring wooden blocks and freshly written letter b’s as you are serenaded by every nursery rhyme in the book. Now what does your picture look like? Does it still speak of eagerness, youth, beauty, and possibility? Of course it does. That last word is particularly special: possibility.

I am in the process of mapping out the details of my project, which will focus on developing a life skills curriculum working closely with Jennifer Van Winkle and also understanding how our girls can integrate Sri Lanka’s free public education into their lives – a few for the very first time. Our goal is that the life skills allow them to work towards their personal and financial independence and that education allows them to develop vocations that are strong and sustainable. Is this possible? Of course it is. Emerge is about possibility – and for me, this is personal, inspirational, and I hope I can be useful.

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