As we move into 2009 and I think of all that Emerge has accomplished in the past year, it’s hard to believe that it was just a year-and-a-half ago that Emerge expanded from one student’s project to an organization of many hearts and minds. Today, it’s hard for me to imagine Emerge without our incredible team.
Rewind. 20 months ago. I remember walking at night, knee-deep in water. My arms were filled with plastic bags, packed with beads and toolboxes. Rats squealed as they swam next to me. I remember noting that it was interesting that rats could swim. “I hope they don’t bite me,” I remember thinking. Somehow, in that moment, the rats and the darkness meant little. It had been much harder for me to deal with the checkpoints and escalating war, and the fact that, despite my best intentions, I had been cheated financially, threatened by the police, and sexually harassed. Moreover, the rats were nothing in comparison to the heartbreaking emotions that swept through me as I tried to comfort the girl whose child had passed away that month. So I kept walking, my arms filled with beads.
On that trip, I taught jewelry workshops, built partnerships, and researched the legal system and social landscape that these girls faced during the day. At night, I planned the next day’s curriculum and designed new jewelry products. Sometimes, I walked through knee-deep water filled with rats. Somewhere in there, I managed to eat, sleep (occasionally), and share a great deal of tears and laughter with 20 wonderful girls. I had confidence we could succeed, but still did not know how we would make the community and program we were building sustainable.
It was on this trip that I met Nirukshi de Lanerolle, a woman who has remained the backbone of our jewelry workshops, and a woman who the girls of Emerge often call “amma” (mother). We wouldn’t be where we are today without her. She was the beginning of our growing team.
Fast Forward. Today. Our programs have grown, sustained, and thrived, now enabling 45 girls to participate in our programs at any given time. This year, with the efforts of countless volunteers who have spread the story of these remarkable young women, we sold nearly $25,000 in jewelry, directly benefiting 73 past and current participants of our Bead Program. We have a powerful team of three inspiring women – Nirukshi, Ellen, and April – running our programs in the field. Other volunteers have built our organizational and operational infrastructure and designed program curriculum. A dedicated team of lawyers has provided pro-bono legal support. And, the story of these inspiring and strong girls is spreading in a way that I never could have imagined as I waded through water 20 months ago. People are beginning to see the girls of Emerge for who they are and can be, looking beyond their past. It’s hard to remember ever feeling alone when we, as a community, are making tremendous impact.
What Now? This year, we will focus on developing our Bead Program such that all goals are fully realized, sustainable, and scalable at our current level of 45 participants. We also aim to create a comprehensive exit, reintegration, and follow-up strategy to serve girls in their transition into society. Finally, we will both be developing our sales strategy, with the goal of increasing this year’s sales revenues to more than $100,000, and will be developing meaningful ways to engage the ever-growing community interested in supporting Emerge.
With 45 girls participating in our Bead Program this year, I hope you will consider participating in our 2009 Sponsorship Program for $250 by completing our sponsorship form, which can be downloaded here. For those of you who sponsored girls in 2008, portfolios are on the way soon!
As always, thank you for being an invaluable part of our community.