3 year old *Pearlea’s eyes sparkled as I spotted her in the busy mall. Her tiny hands were clinging to a department store bag. As soon as the coveted hugs and kisses were given, she was allowed to open the bag, pull out and slip on the princess dress she had chosen for herself. This was the selection she and all of the other little girls under the age of 5 from the safe home had made. They had also chosen ballet outfits for their dance classes, and had found shoes, dresses and hair accessories. All their own. Just for them.
We caught up with the older girls who were giggling and running back and forth from the dressing rooms with their “shopping buddies”, exchanging sizes and perfecting their individuality through that one outfit that would be their final purchase. They had each been given a gift card to spend, and budgeting was an essential part of this day.
Lunch was at least 22 happy meals. Maybe more. Then the girls went ahead of us on a secret mission we were not to question. We arrived across the street a little while later and were ushered into an auditorium and told to sit on the first 2 rows as guests of honor.
The littlest ones had all changed into their matching ballet outfits and began to dance for us. They had been practicing their performance for weeks. They were so sweet.
Then the older girls took their places on the stage. The song started and it was nearly impossible not to let their personal stories roll through your mind.
Orphaned. Abandoned. Exploited. Abused. Suffering.
But as each girl began to share their gratitude and thanks through the one medium they all felt they could express themselves adequately through, their joy became more and more apparent. The song they had chosen was a message of believing. Of leaving the past behind and throwing themselves into the hope and the future they know belongs to them. And the result brought the kinds of tears that I hope everyone gets to experience at some point in his or her life. Tears of wonder and appreciation and hope. The kind of empathy that not only walks in the shoes of suffering, but as a result, gets to share in the joys.
This is the work you graciously support… you are empathizers.
*Perlita’s mother, a victim of forced prostitution and trafficking, abandoned her and her older sister. They live at the safe home full time, where they receive an education, quality care, love and understanding without measure. Names are changed for protection.
Written by Julie Riley