In Sri Lanka, childhood ends early for some teenage girls. Rape and incest survivors ages 10 to 18 who have become pregnant have few options — many are kept in the prison system for their own protection. The country has only one group home for these girls, and life as they knew it before — with family, friends, and education — is permanently changed.
But Lauren O’Toole is doing her part to help, providing these women with a creative outlet and a business opportunity as development officer of Emerge, a nonprofit organization started by an MIT alum that supports victims of sexual abuse in Sri Lanka. Emerge helps these abused girls start an entrepreneurial jewelry business and emphasizes personal discovery, mentorship, and business knowledge. When girls enter the Emerge program, they are supplied with beads and few instructions. Beginning to bead and starting their own business transforms the girls’ self-esteem and pride. The profits that the girls make from their unique jewelry are deposited into savings accounts that they can access when they reach 18. To date, Emerge has changed the lives of more than 80 girls.
As BU undergrads, O’Toole (SMG’08, CAS’08) and Lara Oakes (SMG’08) cofounded BU’s chapter of 85 Broads, a group committed to helping women succeed in business. O’Toole reached out to the group’s current members to help Emerge this Valentine’s Day by holding a sale of the jewelry on February 13 at the George Sherman Union. BU Today spoke with O’Toole about how 85 Broads and Emerge came together to help abused women pick up their lives again.
BU Today: How did you first get involved with Emerge?
O’Toole: Lara and I found a profile of Emerge’s founder, Alia Whitney-Johnson, on the national 85 Broads Web site, so we invited her to come to an event. Our members thought it was an amazing cause and that the jewelry was beautiful. I just fell in love with the organization from day one. When I started to learn about what an incredible impact Emerge has on girls’ lives, I wanted to get involved. I started working with the group full-time over the summer and now I’m working part-time as the development officer. I write the group’s grant applications and entries for business plan competitions, such as the ECHO Competition, which we’re trying to win.
I’m very excited to be back working with BU for this Valentine’s Day sale. We put together 85 Broads last year, and the group keeps forming relationships with alumni, asking them for help and advice.
How are the mission statements of Emerge and 85 Broads similar?
Both groups aim to empower women of all different disciplines. This has been very successful at BU, and Emerge has the same mission.
I knew 85 Broads and Emerge would work well together. As development officer for Emerge, I reached out to the women of 85 Broads because of my connection with the group. It’s been great to connect women, not just those in the business school, but anyone who’s interested in having a career. Emerge’s founder went to the last 85 Broads meeting and did a presentation about the group and what we do. Some people are interested in getting involved with us, and some asked to volunteer at the sale.
What will the sale involve?
The women at BU have taken on the sale, along with volunteers and a few women from the Emerge team at MIT, who will be coming in and out and bringing the materials and guiding them through it. We have a table at the GSU Link and the jewelry we’re selling is very beautiful. The jewelry is made in Sri Lanka and then shipped here. We’re selling a few different types of jewelry — long necklaces, five-strand necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Each piece is completely unique.
The jewelry sale benefiting the girls and women of Emerge is being held in the GSU Link today, Friday, February 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The jewelry, priced between $16 and $25, can also be ordered online. For more information, click here.
Amy Laskowski can be reached at email@example.com.