Alia Whitney-Johnson, Emerge Founder
Written on her visit to Sri Lanka
Udani Ranatunga performing a dance at Shakthi
200+ people filled the open courtyard decorated in color, laughing and talking, while admiring the girls artwork and jewelry, studying the photo exhibit “Beyond the Beads” (by Sri Lanka’s famous Dominic Sansoni), and getting ready for a series of artistic performances. On Friday, we gathered together for Emerge Lanka’s annual event Shakthi (meaning “strength”), an event that brings together artists from around Sri Lanka to celebrate the resiliency of women. I was touched that the participating artists and artistic groups not only performed, but created unique pieces for Emerge — a song, poetry, photography and drama… all for Emerge. 6 actors from the Grassrooted Trust performed a play on incest in Sri Lanka called “Daddy.” The crowd suddenly came to a hush and stood transfixed, completely silent as Grassrooted performed the reality that so many of our girls face (from both the perspectives of the fathers and the daughters) in Sinhala, Tamil, and English. The drama was intense but accurately portrayed the conflicting emotions young women face as they try to protect their family and themselves. After bravely leaving home, their work with Emerge becomes a path towards freedom.
Photo: Music Inc performs “Hold On,” a song written for the girls of Emerge
Music Inc performed “Hold On,” a song they wrote for the girls of Emerge. Poets shared poetry they had written for our girls. Dominic Sansoni, a famous photographer, displayed photos of women of different body types and backgrounds wearing Emerge jewelry. Stephanie Siriwardhana, Miss Sri Lanka 2011-2012, spoke on the importance of Emerge and how our dream had touched her. Iroshini, our Programs Development Officer, shared a poem she wrote about her connection to the girls. And there was more. Much more. I was blown away by the love, support, and enthusiasm for the work we are doing and for the young women we work with. I wish more than anything that the girls of Emerge could have left the shelters Friday night, just for one night, to see the love and support they have in Sri Lanka. It is amazing.
Photo: Amanda Van Dort, Stephanie Siriwardhana, and Alia Whitney-Johnson
Things have moved quickly in the last week. We’ve found a designer who wants to create signature Emerge pendants and clasps to feature in our local line, a chain of stores that wants to carry our products and employ alumni, and a woman who wants to donate her time to teach English. I’m thrilled by the compassion and energy of the people I’m meeting and cannot believe how hungry people are to get involved.
It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, we had no community. We had no mentors, no teachers, no employers offering the support alumni. Today, things are drastically different. Despite being a small organization, when I go out in Colombo and speak about our work, we are known and admired (people will say: “Oh! Have you heard of Emerge? They’re amazing! You should talk to them”).
Our team, our board, our supporters, our alumni, and our girls are energized… The momentum, optimism, and sense of possibility is contagious. With a growing community of local support and a growing community of program alumnae, I believe we can truly build a movement that will change Sri Lanka. In fact, as I stared out at the crowd at our event Friday night, I know that this movement has already begun. This is the beginning of something truly great.
Emerge Team photo: Charuni, Uadaya, Udani, Amanda, Alia, Iro, Nirukshi, and Mumtaz
Photo: Nirukshi de Lanerolle, Udani Ranatunga, and Mumtaz Faleel
Emerge jewelry for sale
Emerge team and volunteers: Udani, Nirosha, Alia, and Charuni