‘Life as Art’, an exhibition and sale of photographs by freelance photographer Chatrini Weeratunge, organised by Emerge Lanka Foundation in aid of its reintegration program, was held at the Barefoot Gallery from 28-30 November.
‘Life as Art’ is a collection of photographs taken by Weeratunge over a decade, presented in different mediums to emphasise the art form of photography. Evocative landscapes capture the inherent beauty of the world she views, highlighted through the subtleties of light and colour: the calming beauty of flowing water, a lily blooming out of the still water in Bolgoda Lake or seemingly uninhabited settings in Jaffna. Others capture random moments of ordinary life in all its glorious beauty, the images offering an insight into the lives of those she photographs, placing particular emphasis on movement and style.
The collection as a whole captures moments which exist ordinarily but are extraordinarily beautiful.
“From my childhood I have studied art and have worked with different mediums. Photography was a natural extension of my creative expression. It empowers me as I am able to explore and capture different facets of the world around me. I see photography as an art and a tool to tell a story and also promote awareness of various issues,” Weeratunge said.
“I got involved with Emerge Lanka Foundation because I wanted to help make a difference in the lives of these girls who have gone through immense trauma and been robbed of their childhood,” she added.
Weeratunge is a freelance photographer specialising in art, travel and humanitarian photography. Her photography has appeared in travel magazines, newspapers and online publications including Serendib, LT and The Picture Press. They have also been used by United Nations agencies such as the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) for advocacy efforts. She has photographed in over 25 countries around the world and has had her photographs purchased in just as many of them.
Weeratunge’s photography complements her career as an international development specialist. She has experience in research, policy advocacy and program management in the areas of socio-economic development, gender, education, trade policy and corporate social responsibility.
Currently a scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, she views photography as an art and a tool she can use to promote awareness of various social issues.
Some of her work can be viewed at:www.chatriniweeratunge.com and http://thepicturepress.org/a-childhood-robbed/
Emerge Lanka Foundation is a charitable organisation which works with girls between the ages of 10 and 18 who have survived sexual abuse and are placed in shelters for their protection as they testify in court against their abusers. It is currently filled beyond its capacity, with 83 girls between 12 and 18 years spread across three shelters.
The Emerge program includes life skills, mentorship and its unique Beads-to-Business curriculum, which teaches girls to make high quality jewellery as well as entrepreneurial and financial skills enabling them to become independent women as well as leaders in their communities.
Each unique piece of jewellery is sold in the United States, Sri Lanka – through Barefoot, Buddhi Batiks, Selyn, Whatever Studio, Cozy Linen, White Walk and Cantaloupe Aqua - and online. All profits are deposited into the girls’ individual savings accounts, which they can use as adults to take care of themselves, and in some cases, their children.
The Emerge reintegration program, for which the exhibition is in aid of, is designed to provide support for the girls after they have left the shelter and help them create a future of their choice.
Emerge Lanka Reintegration Officer Charuni Ranchigoda stated: “Emerge aims to establish an empowerment centre designed to increase employability of the girls as well as support them in the crucial three-month period after leaving shelters. In the frame of a halfway house, the girls are enrolled in a curriculum which increases their employability as well as connects them with resources such as educational and vocational training and business opportunities while providing them with emotional support, food and lodging. Emerge Lanka also actively assists them to find jobs or get further education.”
‘A foothold in life’
Emerge continues to keep track of the girls even after they have left the nest with the staff always available to offer advice, assistance or just listen. They also meet the girls every once in a while to make sure they are doing well, including an annual reunion.
Emerge Lanka Country Manager Mumtaz Aroos Faleel said: “It is our societal responsibility to help these girls, much in need, to get a foothold in life and emerge into adulthood safely and well. We have already let them down as a society in their childhood and it is our duty to at least help them now as adults. It is with reintegration that we can have the biggest impact.”
“We thank all the sponsors who came forward to assist us in making this fundraiser possible and thus help some very deserving girls. We are very thankful to Chatrini, for donating the proceeds of her photography exhibition to help these girls in need,” she added.
Emerge was the brainchild of Alia Whitney-Johnson, a MIT student who arrived in Sri Lanka in 2005 as a tsunami relief volunteer and encountered a heartbreaking reality - girls as young as 11, some even pregnant as a result of incestuous rape, cast out from their own families and denied the right to formal education.
Emerge began as a successful pilot program before Emerge Global was established in 2008 and its implementing partner Emerge Lanka Foundation in 2009, with the goal of empowering girls who have survived sexual abuse to rediscover a sense of hope, build a strong community and fulfil their own visions of the future.
The Beads-to-Business curriculum was created by Whitney-Johnson, herself a jewellery maker since the age of seven, when she discovered in the course of holding a beading workshop for the girls that the act of creating jewellery could become a tool for transformation, uplifting the girls’ spirits and ultimately helping them to overcome the emotional, social and economic obstacles they faced.
The Emerge Bead Programme was born as a way to sustain the girls’ work, connecting the young women to supplies and training, a global market and a global community of support.
In addition to its Beads-to-Business program, Emerge Lanka Foundation currently runs three other programs designed to empower these strong young women: Life Skills, taught in five components including community, healthy lifestyles, money and banking, reproductive health and jobs; Mentorship, where female role models interact with girls creating a positive presence as well as broadening horizons; and Reintegration, which includes a peer educator internship program, a past participant scholarship program, annual reunions and a future empowerment centre focused on providing Emerge alumnae with skills and resources tailored to increase employability and provide educational/business support to succeed in their lives once they leave shelters.