By: Paulina Muratore Emerge Intern
As my time in Sri Lanka comes to an end, I have been reflecting a lot on everything that has happened this summer, and everything that I have learned. Despite many challenges and frustrations, I have still learned more here than I ever could have in a classroom. There is a lot to be said for education, books, lectures, and learning, but it all makes so much more sense once you throw yourself into a completely different culture, country, world.
All Sri Lankans whom I’ve encountered consistently ask “how do you like Sri Lanka,” with a wide, loving smile on their faces. Even when they say the name of their country you can see the pride and love for their country swell within them, but not in a haughty, huffed up kind of way. In such a genuine, altruistic, and humble kind of way. I know humble pride seems like somewhat of an oxymoron, but that is the best way I can describe it.
I am torn with emotions as my last few days creep up on me. The overriding emotion is that of happiness, for having been able to have this opportunity. Yes, many of the situations I’ve encountered here are devastating, but somehow I have a renewed sense of hope in humanity that I don’t quite know how to explain. Maybe it is simply that being on the complete opposite side of the Earth forced me to realize just how interconnected humanity really is, and how similar we all are.
We may look different, have different beliefs, eat different foods, have different traditions, speak different languages, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we are all living, breathing, sleeping, eating, working, crying, smiling, creatures. We all generally feel the same kinds of emotions, we all have a need to love and to be loved, and we all generally desire the same things in life— happiness, safety/security, love, support, and all the little things in between. I can share a moment with a Sri Lankan woman simply by smiling, acknowledging that we have so much more in common than we thought.
The girls I worked with at Emerge this summer have also inspired me more than I could ever describe in words. It is so frustrating at times to know how trapped they are, and yet so hopeful other times knowing that some will come out of the shelters one day and be strong women, with the help of Emerge. The final project that I am doing is a small pamphlet informing the girls of Emerge of their Constitutional rights regarding equality, and other laws in Sri Lanka pertaining to sexual abuse/assault.
Most of these girls have no idea that there is, for example, a difference between rape and statutory rape, and that there is a punishment for small instances of abuse such as men cat-calling them on the street. They are so accustomed to it that they perceive it as somewhat normal. For them, this is simply what happens to girls in this country frequently. The goal of my pamphlet is to inform them on the laws against sexual abuse so that they can slowly begin to learn that in law, their country does not support these things, and that it is not okay for men to treat the girls the way they’ve been treated. Later, this pamphlet will be translated into Tamil and Sinhala for the girls of Emerge.
Although I left Sri Lanka the last day in July, my connection to Emerge did not end there. I will continue to sell the girls’ jewelry in Boston, just as I had been doing prior to arriving in Sri Lanka. However, selling the jewelry after my trip will not feel the way it did before. It has so much more meaning now, after having spent time with these incredible, strong, inspiring girls. I hope that having met them will help me to tell their stories even better, and will help me to continue spreading the word about Emerge and the girls of Emerge.