UEA student pledges help for vulnerable women
A UEA student will be helping vulnerable women in South America after her passion was fired whilst working alongside the hurting and exploited at Norwich's Christian charity STEP.
By Sandie Shirley
Emma Gooding, who is studying Spanish and international development, will be steeling her courage to take up her childhood dream of working overseas while carrying out her third year student placement. Her quest to help vulnerable women from Latin America will come while staying with a Christian family near Jinotepe in Nicaragua, an area known for the violent gangs that prey on women.
Bringing love and acceptance to those that are fearful, abused and used, will include supporting them at the in-house church charity’s bakery and the card and jewellery making sessions that help provide financial provision. (Emma’s volunteer support at STEP already includes assistance at the ‘GEMS’ craft classes that provide attendees with purpose and a token income.)
Her work in Nicaragua will develop her language skills while hearing God’s heart for her future when she returns to South America four years after her first visit during a short-term summer mission. “I have wanted to serve abroad since I was nine years old,” says Emma who departs for her ten month trip in August. “It will help me learn from those I am working with and I am sure I shall develop some awesome relationships and friendships while being part of the team.”
The student from Wales has fund-raised for nine months to help provide £6,000 for the estimated flight and living expenses. Her efforts have included a half marathon, cocktail party, quiz night and teaching Spanish at UEA after her lectures.
The member of Proclaimers joined fellow church member, Ria Landon at STEP to support up to 22 exploited women after attending a Christian Spring Harvest convention. She was heartbroken on learning the plight of young girls caught up in street trafficking and continued to research the worldwide problem in a bid to understand more.
Now she is reaching out to working women on the Norwich streets and helping others find the courage and hope to emerge from the long-haul recovery of abuse, poverty, drink, drugs and homelessness after dark years of suffering and pain.
STEP – Standing Together; Encouraging People (to reach their aspirations) was launched over three years ago by four women who wanted to support one another and reach out to others that are similarly affected by exploitation. The self-help group that has gained trusted support has mushroomed. STEP now includes peer mentoring, pamper days, weekly discussions, monthly dinners and help during times of crises. It attracts Christian volunteers from all walks of life including a 73 year-old lady who has become a ‘surrogate grandmother’ to many of the women.
Ria joined STEP knowing the terrible issues facing many of them after her childhood was stolen by her father, a pimp, who forced her onto the streets as a teenager. The best selling author, who became a Christian over two years ago, teams with others to offer the women alternatives and underpin changed attitudes. “We want them to discover their true identity. Our ‘star chart’ programme, for example, is individually tailored to promote self-worth and enable them to see they have always been precious to God. As they work through issues on a one- to- one basis, for three months and six months, they receive a certificate and gift to encourage them. Sometimes it is the only certificate they have had,” says Ria.
The ‘star chart’ scheme was launched in January but it is already paying dividends as outlooks change. “One lady has been to the optician, had her teeth done and now attends church while doing a second faith discovery course. It is very exciting,” she adds.
The work continues “but prayer, volunteering and financial support are always welcome,” says Ria.
Pictured above from left to right: Emma Gooding and Ria Landon