This July has been one of the hottest in a long time,” according to Elma, a 16 year old Roma girl and proud JewelGirls participant. We are all feeling the heat of summer, but it’s particularly warm for Elma and the teen girls who meet each Saturday at the Roma kindergarten where we hold our empowerment workshops. Our local Roma partner at the kindergarten ran out of funding, and resources are so limited in the Roma settlement that we have recently had to conduct some of our workshops without electricity.
Only, Elma considers herself one of the luckiest girls in her small Roma settlement camp outside Belgrade. She feels lucky to be allowed to come make jewelry and values each dollar she earns from sales to support herself and her family. Many Roma girls her age are forced to beg on the streets or are lured into sexual exploitation out of desperation resulting from extreme poverty and discrimination. Sadly, this has been the experience of many of the teen girls FAIR Fund serves.
I feel lucky myself to have spent part of July with Elma and the more than 30 teen girls in our JewelGirls art therapy and economic empowerment program in Belgrade. I have known some of the girls, like Elma, for years. I am meeting other girls for the very first time. This trip was filled with excitement because for the first time, we will be allowed to create JewelGirls sales events in Belgrade. Until recently, Serbian law did not allow for sales parties, meaning that the empowering experience of being a part of a sales event with customers and friends was just a dream for these teen girls who have seen photos other JewelGirls at sales events in D.C., Russia, and Uganda. So, despite the heat that makes the beads feel like they are melting in their hands, Elma and all of the teen girls in Serbia are eagerly attending each of the 40 workshops in July and August as they prepare to meet their customers and put their newly learned skills in communications and business to work.
The JewelGirls program has become so popular with the Roma girls in this refugee settlement that we have a list of teen girls waiting to join the program. They are waiting until we have enough staff capacity and resources to fully serve them. Yet, despite the heat and dim lights, the girls sing songs as they make jewelry and are passionately engaged in each workshop. They are excited for their first JewelGirls sales party, and so am I!
Enjoy the photos of the girls from my trip, and thank you so much for all of your support.
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