A new support system
The Emerge Lanka Foundation was formed in 2009 by American volunteer Alia Whitney Johnson. Alia had come to Sri Lanka as a volunteer after the 2004 tsunami and was devastated by the plight of young girls who were sexually abused and cast out by their own families. These girls had to go through the system and were locked up for protection with little access to proper education. She formed Emerge Global in 2008 with the goal of empowering girls across the world who have survived sexual abuse. Emerge Lanka was set up as its sister organisation.
Today, Emerge has worked with over 260 young girls from different communities. These girls, aged 10-18, live in shelters following their ordeals. “It’s a devastating thing,” says Amanda Van Dort, Country Director for Emerge Lanka. “They have no support system after everything they go through.”
Emerge links with these shelters through the Department of Probation and Childcare Services. There are four main programmes that they work with to engage young girls. Perhaps the most popular and effective is the Beads to Business programme, whereby the girls learn to make high quality jewellery and use the skill as a foundation to set up and manage their own businesses. It’s an innovative economic model-the girls simulate shops and banks, and manage their own inventory and accounts.
Their buyers take the product to the market and 50% of the sale income goes straight into the girls’ accounts, while the rest is used to cover the bead expenses and redirected to the programme. The girls can access these funds once they’re 18; they use the funds towards their education, children and medical support and to set up their own businesses.
A certain percentage is also kept aside for the girls to engage in their own community service initiative at the end of the period. “We’re focussed on making these girls community leaders,” says Amanda. “We want them to go back to their communities and be initiators of change.”
The Life Skills Training programme teaches girls about goal setting, reproductive health, job readiness, money management, communication, crisis management and community engagement.
The Mentorship Programme pairs each girl with an adult role model who works with her during the session about topics such as body image, childcare, mental health, social responsibility, goal setting and more. Sometimes, former participants in the programme will even return to speak about their experience and to inspire the girls with their own success stories. Once they leave the shelter they’re not alone; under the Reintegration programme Emerge will support these girls as they make the transition from the shelter to society.
While they operate mainly thanks to foreign donations and grants, the Emerge Lanka Foundation hope to expand their local reach and support. For this purpose, they hosted a fundraiser evening of wine tasting yesterday at Gerard Mendis Chocolatier, Horton Place. The evening was a combination of an informative session on Emerge, a sale of the fabulous jewellery made by Emerge volunteers, music and of course five courses of wine.
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