By Suram Edirisinghe, Asia Foundation LankaCorps Fellow
Hello there, my name is Suram Edirisinghe, and I am a current intern at Emerge Lanka, working on their Life Skills Program. I am a California native and a recent college graduate from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Upon graduation I was selected to participate in the Asia Foundation’s LankaCorps program, which grants me, a Sri Lankan- American, the opportunity to live and work in Sri Lanka for the next six months. It was through my conversations with the foundation that I first learned about Emerge Lanka. Being amazed at the efforts made by this organization, I was eager to start working at Emerge Lanka.
Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by a wonderful group of women. Their enthusiasm and openness enabled me to converse with them more easily. I was quickly informed about each person’s role within the organization, furthering my understanding of the work being done within the charity foundation. I also gained a better understanding of the work I would be doing as a Life Skills Fellow. I have been tasked with helping revise the current Life Skills Curriculum to help better serve the girls. After speaking more closely with the Program Development Officer, Iroshini Kalpage, and having been given material to read through by the National Coordinator, Mumtaz Aroos Faleel, I began forming ideas of how to improve the current curriculum. The only other crucial element needed in determining the direction the revised curriculum would take was seeing how the girls engaged with the current lessons.
Prior to my visits, I was prepped on the rules held within the shelters. If I thought I was nervous in meeting the girls before; it pale in comparison to what I was feeling now. The combination of the girls’ perceptions and making sure I would not say or do anything unacceptable, made me anxious. These feelings did not relent until after I had set foot into the shelter and met the girls for the first time. They were very quiet when they took notice in a fellow intern and me. It was at that moment I realized as much as I was nervous to meet them, they were just as nervous to meet me. When the girls were split into small groups, the other intern and I were able to move from group to group and interact with the girls more closely. At first, it was difficult to engage one another in conversation due to the combination of nerves and the language barrier. However, we were able to find other ways to communicate such as through written word, gestures and drawings. To my surprise, the girls tended to initiate the conversations, and soon after, I came to learn that they were able to understand when we communicated in English. In return, I was able understand them when the spoke in Sinhalese. Later on, the other intern and I came across a few girls who could speak in English. When conversing with them, many of the others would depend on the three girls to ask questions on their behalf. After spending a good amount of time on introductions, the girls became more comfort around us. They were even bold enough to request us to sing. The other intern and I, being too nervous, asked them to sing, in our stead. They all willingly sang songs, in both English and Sinhala. The day continued to pass on with us talking, singing and laughing amongst each other. When it was time for us to leave, we all became a little disheartened. There was still so much to learn from one another, and time, for once, was not on our side. As we said our goodbyes, the girls made one request of us… for us to come again.
Making our way back to the organization, I had time to reflect upon the day. I recounted how vulnerable I was when I first entered the shelter. As nervous and uncertain as I was on whether the girls would like me, I realized (only after initially meeting them), they were possibly be feeling the same emotions. After pushing past our initial feelings, I found the girls to be quite delightful. They are curious, friendly, talented and ambitious. It was nice to hear about their life’s ambitions. Some talked about obtaining higher levels of education to become engineers or lawyers. Others discussed about their interest in pursuing a career in the arts. The diversity of interests and personalities amongst the girls showcased their individuality. Being able to meet and talk with the girls was a pleasure, which ended too quickly. I am grateful to have met them and gained a sense of who they are and who they want to be once they leave the shelter. Using the information I gathered through my visits, I hope to create a curriculum that will not only further engages the girls, but will also help the girls make steps towards their life’s goals.