It is essentially a place which nurtures ‘big’ dreams. While one sees herself donning the cloak of justice, another dreams of designing happy homes for others. With essential spoken English coupled with self-defence skills, computer knowledge and saving tips, nine young women at the Emerge Centre for Reintegration are confident to face the world. Emerge [...]


Step by step, a window to the real world

Emerge Centre for Reintegration, the latest addition to Emerge Lanka Foundation offers victims of abuse placed in various ‘shelters’ a residential empowerment programme to help them face society as they turn 18

Learning life skills: The girls get much-needed support. Pix by Amila Gamage

It is essentially a place which nurtures ‘big’ dreams. While one sees herself donning the cloak of justice, another dreams of designing happy homes for others. With essential spoken English coupled with self-defence skills, computer knowledge and saving tips, nine young women at the Emerge Centre for Reintegration are confident to face the world.

Emerge Centre  for Reintegration is the latest addition to Emerge Lanka Foundation which supports survivors of sexual abuse aged 10-18 who are placed in various ‘shelters’ including Homes under the mandate of the Department of Probation and Child Care. The Foundation which has been touching the lives of countless exploited young girls for the past 12 years, through its programmes of rendering life skills, financial resources and business insights, is now extending its support to young women who have reached 18 and are forced to find their way ‘alone’ in society.

The Centre provides a residential empowerment programme for 16 young women at a time as they face a transitional period from shelters and step into adulthood. The Centre, housed in Rajagiriya, enables a creative, experimental and healing space while equipping the participants with tools for independence.

The Centre, as its head Achini Wijesinghe points out had the first intake of girls in January this year, followed by another in April who just ‘graduated’ a few weeks ago. The girls are directed to the Emerge Centre on its request by the Department of Probation and Child Care Services of respective provinces. “What we offer them is a three-month residential programme through which they navigate from simple chores such as placing an order for lunch to making their monthly budget,” notes Achini, adding that the prime objective of the programme is to make these girls independent to stand on their own feet confidently once they are exposed to the mainstream. “Sometimes, it could be a little task like catching the correct bus, but such chores foster a great deal of independence in these girls who are lagging behind their counterparts.”

Mumtaz Aroos Faleel

The Emerge Centre is also a celebration of the mettle of young women who fight for justice despite all odds. Most of the girls, as the Country Manager, Emerge Lanka, Mumtaz Aroos Faleel asserts, are testifying in courts. “These girls have been institutionalised for so long and many of them are deprived of education throughout the court proceedings. They are not offenders, on the contrary, they have been wronged,” reflects Mumtaz adding that stigma attached to them by the community at large is disheartening. “They don’t want their children to be mingling with these girls who are often labelled as pariwase lamai (children directed through Department of Probation and Child Care Services), the reason why some of them have missed formal education.” The Country Manager also bemoans the societal prejudices which hinder young survivors of sexual abuse from moving forward and bringing out their true potential. “The last thing they want is sympathy,” reflects Mumtaz who applauds their ‘fighting spirit’ for justice. The girls also defy the stereotypical jobs routinely dished out for them which often include becoming a ‘garment girl’ or a ‘sales girl’.

Emerge Centre makes any visitor feel at home which is essentially what the Centre aspires for its ‘girls’. Complete with comfortable dormitories, a classroom, yoga and meditation terrace, counselling room, recreational lounge and a well-equipped computer lab, it is a home which prepares the girls who are on the threshold of adulthood.

The country’s law requires youth in child care institutions to leave their care homes and live independently as an adult by 18. With almost zero networking opportunities and no proper life skills, these youth are unprepared for this transition. While this cross section of our youth population sadly remains ‘invisible’ to the public as well as the State – the ultimate custodian of children, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children state otherwise. The Udayan Biennial Conference of 2016 held in India for improving standards of care for alternative child and youth care further reiterated the importance of ‘creating successful avenues for young people in transition to independence’.

Achini Wijesinghe

An ice cream at Viharamahadevi Park, a stroll along the Galle Face, a visit to the museum and a quick shopping spree with the ‘Centre Mothers’ enable these girls a window to the real world.  The ‘mothers’ – Chandrani and Dhammika find it a rewarding experience. “We see them slowly coming out of their shell thanks to the mentoring the Centre provides,” reflects Chandrani. The girls, as Dhammika says, get involved in daily chores including cooking under the guidance of their ‘mothers’.

The three-month residential programme comprises several modules including individual and group counselling, personal and professional development, technical training, interpersonal skills, and a four-stage professional/educational placement programme. The professional/educational placement programme gives the beneficiaries an introduction to future opportunities through training workshops and interaction with guest speakers, field trips, experimental ‘trial period’ where internships, job shadowing and/or short-term academic placements. It also offers professionals and educational placements upon programme completion.

Sharing their experience with the Emerge Centre, the girls tell us that they have regained their self-esteem thanks to the mentoring received by the capable hands of the Centre. They also recollect their fond memories of the ‘outings’ with the Emerge Team, offering them a sense of fraternity and belonging.

As Achini informs us, those who are interested in pursuing further education are given scholarship schemes. Shanika who was among the first batch of girls to have come under the wings of the Emerge Centre is presently receiving on-the-job training at a Montessori school and hopes to follow a course. “Although we have graduated from the Emerge Centre, our wellbeing is still looked after by the Centre,” says Shanika who is grateful for all life-skills she acquired during the reintegration period.

The Centre is presently funded by the Colombo Round Table 1, (CRT 1). It is an extension of Round Table Sri Lanka, a member of Round Table International, which is a global young men’s fellowship club with more than 40,000 members in over 50 countries. President, CRT 1, Nadeen Kumarasinghe, while applauding the commitment of Emerge Lanka Foundation for initiating a much needed facility for young survivors of sexual abuse, says: “Looking back where the Centre has completed two batches with 100 % employment rate upon conclusion, we are confident of its future and would like to use it as a prototype where Emerge Lanka can use the learning and the success, to seek multiple funding rounds from local and international donor agencies to replicate the same model across the country by setting up multiple centres.”

Many other supporters and volunteers have rallied around the Centre in providing additional support in the form of visiting counsellors, doctors, lawyers, yoga and meditation classes, self-defence classes, art therapy, community service projects and regular training, events and reunions for alumna.

“We have a full-time in-house counsellor as it is not easy for them to shed their traumatized past. Some have survived sexual abuse as very young children and there are others who have gone through multiple trauma,” reflects the Country Manager who reiterates their pledge to abide strictly by ethical practices. “The big unknown world is out there and we give our girls tools they need in the form of skills and confidence to navigate it and we welcome mentors who could positively impact their futures,” adds Mumtaz with a smile.


Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.