Thriving Despite Difficult Pasts: Emerge Global

The Story of “DDMDI” – A Child Abuse Survivor 

When she was 1 ½ years old, DDMDI’s mother left the country to secure a job overseas. At ten-years-old, her father started abusing her and at 15, he impregnated her. 

No one believed her story for years. When the truth was revealed, she was sent to a shelter in Colombo for the duration of her court case where she stumbled upon Emerge Global. In time, DDMDI left the shelter and got married. She built a house in Dambulla with the money she generated through Emerge by making pieces of jewelry. She has now started her own little boutique at home and is an entrepreneur who supports her husband to keep her family financially stable and healthy.

However, her story is one of the few that ends well. 

14.6% of men in Sri Lanka have perpetrated rape. 

84% of reported rape victims are under 18 years old. 

97% of abusers in Sri Lanka are known to their victims. 

Such are the alarming statistics of child sexual abuse in Sri Lanka. For most, the horror doesn’t end with the act itself. 

Enter Emerge Global, an organisation that rebuilds the hopes and dreams of the girls and uplift their spirits, encouraging them to look forward to the future. Providing them with the skills, resources and network to make a life for themselves and to fortify them with the courage to stand up and speak up, Emerge Global invests in strong girls who will strive for a brighter future. 

Emerge Global was born when Alia Whitney-Johnson arrived in Sri Lanka at 19-years-old as a tsunami-relief volunteer. During this trip, she encountered a heartbreaking reality that changed her life.

Girls as young as 11, who had survived rape or incest and had the courage to stand up for themselves in court, were cast out of their own families, denied the right to formal education, and locked-up for their own protection. 

Deciding to put her passion for jewelry-making to good use, Alia hosted a beading workshop to get to know the girls better. The act of creating jewelry soon became a tool for transformation, helping them to overcome the emotional, social, and economic obstacles they faced.

Speaking to Kaavya Pathirana of Emerge Lanka Foundation, we found out how the Beads to-Business program aids the girls in overcoming their trauma and equips them with important life skills. 

“Creating jewelry through the Beads-to-Business core program supports girls to heal and express themselves safely while learning critical life and business skills through jewelry design. Emerge sells the hand-crafted pieces on behalf of the girls, so they are able to generate a savings of their own; which they can later invest into uplifting their lives upon leaving the institutionalized system,” says Kaavya.

“Bead by bead and girl by girl, Emerge has enabled hundreds of girls to develop healthy, self-sufficient lives. Through our programs, girls not only generate capital but also increase their business acumen, leadership, and confidence. They build a network of support and mentors and prepare for their lives as adults with in-depth knowledge of reproductive health, job readiness, and money management. Finally, they gain critical skills to map-out and enact their visions of change for their communities”. 

Along with empowering the girls, a significant part of the work that Emerge Global does helps in eradicating the darkness that accompanies the trauma that they have faced. Survivors often suffer from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which prevents them from progressing with their lives. 

A pregnancy would cause further complications as abortion in Sri Lanka is illegal and minors are not allowed to give up their children for adoption. To make matters worse, social stigma makes it challenging to find work, housing, educational opportunities and leaves them vulnerable to unsafe relationships and work. 

“In Sri Lanka, girls 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 do not have access to formal schooling,” shares Kaavya.

“Consequently, without programs like those that Emerge offers, these young women lack the education, skills, and capital to be self-sufficient when they transition back into communities. Without a support network or skills, and facing incredible societal stigma, it is easy for these young women to be exploited. Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer from severe PTSD, struggling to overcome past trauma and believe in their own capacity to take control of their lives”. 

Today, Emerge Global has achieved their objective of producing empowered, strong-willed girls, who have taken the knowledge and the money that they have made through jewellery making to finance businesses and additional education, take care of children, pay for medical support, and even build homes. 

However, during the times of COVID-19, child abuse in Sri Lanka has increased exponentially, with many alumnae experiencing job loss, food insecurity, and mental health challenges. Emerge Global is currently in need of $30,000 to support themselves. 

If you wish to donate to their cause, visit Help a strong-willed girl fight for a better future. One bead at a time. 

Call +94 760 035 154 or [email protected] if you know someone in need of support or want to get involved. 



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Author: Anuki Seneviratne
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