For Amanda Van Dort, taking up her post as the Country Director of the Emerge Lanka Foundation is a homecoming of sorts. Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Amanda identifies herself as Sri Lankan American – her father is Dutch Burgher and her mother is Sinhalese. Growing up, Amanda and her family visited Sri Lanka often and she says she’s always wanted to live and work here. “I am fascinated by the country, and believe that the people here are open to change, which is extremely refreshing to someone who considers themselves to be a social activist,” says the 23 year old.
Amanda should make a great role model for the young women she is going to work with. While studying for her BSc. in Exercise Science (she would graduate with Highest Honors) at the Eastern Michigan University, Amanda was also a Student Leader on campus, President of the Exercise Science Organization and an Undergraduate Research Fellow for three years.
She would later serve as a Wellness Specialist for the University of Michigan, and Coordinator of Project Healthy Schools at the University Preparatory Academy in Detroit, Michigan.
Amanda hopes to stay with Emerge for at least a year, if not more. When she does move on it will be to pursue her Graduate studies in International Public Policy – knowledge which she hopes to implement in Sri Lanka.
She’s frank about her personal motivation: “As a survivor of a sexual assault incident myself, I feel very strongly about the population that Emerge Lanka Foundation works with. I think a better understanding of International Law would help me to make a long lasting difference in the cases of these girls.” This week, she sits down with the Mirror Magazine to talk about her work.
Mirror Magazine: Where and with whom does Emerge work with today?
Amanda: Currently Emerge Lanka Foundation runs its programs in (2) homes, A Salvation Army home in Borella and a Government home in Panadura. We are looking to expand to 1-2 more homes by next January. The Emerge Program is designed for girls 10-18 years old, who are survivors of sexual assault/abuse, many of which are teenage mothers. The girls are in court cases against their offenders, are thus “protected witnesses” and are subsequently placed in homes for the duration of their case.
MM: Why did you choose to join Emerge?
A: I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to be a part of Emerge. The organization is well respected for its work with some of the most courageous women I have ever met. Their programs are successful because Emerge has a very specific mission, which we relentlessly pursue. The entire Emerge team (both domestic and abroad) are committed to these girls; their stability and subsequent happiness is our greatest achievement.
MM: Do you see your background in public health work contributing to your work with the organisation?
A: Yes, the main concept behind both Preventative Medicine and Public Health is that every individual has a right to proper health through the meeting of basic needs. I was taught that Human Wellness is a triangle which includes three components: Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Mental Health. I was lucky enough to work for the University of Michigan as a Wellness Specialist, which allowed me to strengthen my skills in consulting patients about fitness and proper eating habits. With my current position, I can apply my background in Mental Wellness towards our work with these girls. Maslow’s triangle represents a hierarchy of needs which I am now using to direct our mentorship sessions.
MM: Are there particular projects or points you’d like to focus on during your tenure as Country Director?
A: My goals as Country Director are to increase social awareness about the issues these girls face, work to change the underlying policies that inhibit these girls (and in some cases their children) from achieving their dreams, and to strengthen our relationships within the community to provide proper reintegration into society. Finally, the continuation and expansion of Emerge Lanka Foundation’s amazing programs is inherent. My post is for a minimum of 1 year, though I would love to stay longer.
MM: What are the challenges facing the Emerge program today?
A: There are many challenges for any program that works towards a cause that is unknown to most. Local support and funding is a problem that is quickly changing. There are many Sri Lankans who are eager to get involved and support the Emerge girls. Even though we have the dedicated support of the Department of Probation and Childcare, as partners we find it difficult to keep in touch with the girls after they leave the shelters. Our goal is to ensure that these girls are not defined by their circumstances, but are provided with the support to rise above and reach their personal and professional goals. Without proper follow up, it is difficult to measure the long-term effects of the program.
MM: How can young Sri Lankans contribute/participate in your programs?
A: The youth of this country are the ones who can contribute most to the mission of Emerge Lanka Foundation. They are the ones who will shape the future society. It is important for young Sri Lankans to get involved in charity work, to develop their individual sense of responsibility towards others, and to use their education and influence to develop feasible solutions. For more information on how to get involved with ELF, please visit our website at www.emergeglobal.org and get in touch with our Office Manager, Charuni Ranchigoda at firstname.lastname@example.org