Picture a woman, clad in a black hijab, wrapped in a colorful skirt, running her dye-stained fingers through a young woman’s golden hair. “Beautiful,” she whispers, her eyes sparkling. She pulls the girl, Emma Gates, a freshman majoring in international studies, into her embrace with tears in her eyes and gratitude in her smile.
This was a woman raised in poverty, but to Gates she was richer than us all.
Gates is an established humanitarian in spite of her age. She has worked with children in rural Chinese villages, assisted Himalayan communities on the slopes of Nepal and recently fought against human trafficking in the Middle East, alongside the Princess of Jordan.
“Hearing about human trafficking makes me sick,” Gates said. “The idea that people can’t stand up for themselves, believing their whole lives that they’re worthless? That’s something that needs to end.”
To do her part in ending human trafficking, Gates volunteered her services at the Princess Taghrid Institute in Amman, Jordan.
“I grew up knowing who I was, but there are a lot of people who didn’t,” she said. “Those are who I want to help.”
Doctor Aghadeer Arafat Jweihan, General Director of PTI, founded the organization in 2010 by the guidance of Her Royal Highness Princess Taghrid Mohammed to support underprivileged, orphaned and abandoned youths in Jordan, explained on their official website.
Along with her humanitarian endeavors, Jweihan adopted many girls from orphanages to protect them from human traffickers, becoming a mother to 40 children.
“People tend to help orphans when they are young, but once they grow up they are not wanted and treated with cruelty and discrimination,” Jweihan said in a promotional video. “They do not live a normal life.”
Since its founding, PTI has helped hundreds of women escape poverty through social programs. One such program, Pure Felt, allows women to gain education and work for their own income by repurposing wool into ornamental baskets, keychains and floor rugs.
“We do not want free handouts at all,” Jweihan explained to Gates. “We want to sustain ourselves and be proud of what we have. We want to earn everything we have.”
Gates shared that while PTI is self-sustaining, Jweihan still needs people like Gates to be emotional support systems for recovering women.
“Language barriers have never been a problem for Emma when it comes to making people feel loved,” said Hyrum Parkin, a co-volunteer and friend of Gates. “Most of these women couldn’t read, and none spoke English.”
Parkin has been a friend of Gates’ since they were in high school together.
“The first thing Emma did when we got there was sneak behind the group to be with a few young school girls who must have been fascinated with all the white people in their town,” Parkin said. “The smiles of these girls were overflowing as Emma did what she does best, which is make people feel appreciated, loved and like they are special.”
According to Parkin, Gates helped everyone she saw, from the women at PTI to children in the streets. The people also showed their love and gratitude for her.
Gates recounted a moment when she was pulled away from work by women and children telling her “you’re coming home with me” over and over in Arabic.
“And if I had been allowed, I would have,” said Gates.
She held a photograph of a little Jordanian boy in her hands, his smile as wide as the one on her own face.
“Usually when I go to third-world countries, I get sad because I look at all the people struggling in poverty, but this time I was happy,” Gates expressed. “I no longer felt bad. I felt grateful and proud of what these people did with their poverty, with their circumstances.”
Gates said another concern includes the association westerners make with ISIS. She explained that this is based on misconstructions about Muslims affiliating with terrorist organizations.
“Most people think of ISIS when they think of us,” Jweihan told Gates. She gestured to the smiles around the room, to mothers holding their children and to boys and girls sharing toys. “Does this remind you of ISIS?”
Gates said nothing could be further from her mind.
She feels there is too much close-mindedness towards Muslim people.
Gates was inspired by the hard work, kindness and resilience the Jordanian men and women had. She hopes that people can emulate those same qualities by opening their minds and becoming better at connecting with people who don’t share the same beliefs.
“I think everyone is impoverished in some way because poverty can be in your heart,” Gates said. “While in a worldly sense, the Jordanians are poor, they’re some of the richest people I’ve ever met. They choose to see the good.”
Gates tucked her photograph of the little boy inside of her passport, where it will wait until she returns to continue her humanitarian work.