In 2005, 19-year-old Alia-Whitney Johnson arrived in Sri Lanka as a tsunami-relief volunteer. She witnessed a heartbreaking reality: girls as young as 11-years-old who have survived sexual abuse and have the courage to take their perpetrator to court are placed in protective shelters during their court cases. While living in these shelters, they are isolated from their community and are denied the right to formal education. Consequently, these young girls lack the education, skills and capital to be self-sufficient when they transition back into the community. Without a support network or skills, and facing incredible societal stigma, it is easy for these young women to fall into abusive relationships or be forced into the sex industry.
Alia recognised the need for drastic change. The Emerge Beads-to-Business Program was developed as a way to support these brave Sri Lankan girls, aged 10-18, by partnering with shelters to transform them into design-centred entrepreneurship hubs, where girls develop the skills, network, and financial capital needed for self-sufficiency.
Through jewellery design and creation, Emerge offers a hands-on approach that not only supports the girls’ healing but is also an imperative part of Emerge’s financial literacy and business development curriculum. The jewellery created is sold and profits go back to the individual artists, providing them with a financial foundation when they leave the shelter.
To date, the program has worked with over 450 girls from across Sri Lanka. Every US$1 invested into each girl’s materials helps her generate more than US$3.80 in savings. Some girls have made more than US$1,400 within a year of participating in the program. Girls have used this money to finance their future education, pay for medical support, take care of children, run businesses and even build homes. Bead by bead and girl by girl, Emerge has enabled hundreds of girls to develop healthy, self-sufficient lives.
Having recently been named the Project Inspire 2015 Runner-Up Winner, Emerge hopes to empower more girls.
You can find out more about Emerge Lanka Foundation by visiting their website
Watch Emerge Lanka’s founder, Alia Whitney-Johnson’s Project Inspire 2015 pitch here