“What is the difference between us and the girls in Russia?” – Kia, age 15, a D.C. JewelGirl
Kia* was talking face to face with Elena and Veronica, FAIR Fund’s Russian staff who lead our JewelGirls program in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. The girls in D.C. were so excited to meet them and learn about girls like them … in Russia!
This Tuesday started out pretty much like all other D.C. workshops: before the girls arrived, Adrienne (our amazing social work intern) and I picked up donated food for the girls; we turned on the lights at our shared space with Covenant House and sat out the girls’ gratitude journals for them to write in before the workshop; and the girls showed up around 4:30 PM. But we were extra excited because we had a surprise for the girls – our two Russian staff, Elena and Veronica, had come to see them!
As the girls started to all come in, they looked curiously at Elena and Veronica. After writing three good things that happened during their day in their gratitude journals and getting their hummus, pita chips, fruit and cookies, they sat down. We asked each girl to tell Elena and Veronica a little bit about themselves and why they loved being JewelGirls at FAIR Fund. Here are a few things they said:
“I like coming where there are girls like me who understand me.” - London*, 16
“I like knowing I have an oasis from my troubles.” – Karrie*, 15
“I just like being able to make jewelry and earn money!” – Tina*, 19
That is when Kia* asked Elena what the difference was between the D.C. JewelGirls and the JewelGirls in Russia. What Elena said surprised me. She told the girls that the only difference was language. At first, I didn’t agree because the girls we empower in Russia are typically orphaned, trafficked through forced labor, and left to fend for themselves in orphanages or on the streets. Also, most of our girls in Russia are only 12 years old and are so malnourished we often buy them clothes that would fit a six-year-old American girl. One in three Russian orphan girls will be sold into sex trafficking within three months of being kicked out of orphan care. In D.C., the majority of the JewelGirls are high-risk toward or have survived sex trafficking or sexual violence. They are, on average, 15-years-old and living in foster homes or have recently left homeless shelters. In fact, D.C. girls face the highest rate of poverty in the nation. Then, Elena said, “You are all the same because you want a better life for yourselves.; you want a chance and are willing to fight for it.” I completely understand it now. What defines our JewelGirls – whether in Bosnia, Russia, Serbia, Uganda, or D.C. – is their passion for their future, not the exploitation in their past!
The last two hours of the workshop was spent watching “Soul Surfer,” an amazing biographical film of acclaimed surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark at age 13. The film was very intense and I saw a few of our girls tear up – including Elena! They clapped for Bethany when she competed for the regional surfer title in Hawaii just short of a year after she lost her arm. After the movie, the girls were full of ideas of what they wanted to fight for – jobs, education, and a place to live, and even a visit to Russia to meet their “sisters” abroad. They cheered when Bethany said she would never give up her dreams.
Now THAT is something that all girls at FAIR Fund can understand!
It was such a special and inspiring global day for the D.C. JewelGirls and our Russian team. I wanted to share it with all of you who help ensure that FAIR Fund can continue to inspire girls worldwide. We could not do our work without you! Thank you!
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of our young clients.
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