Pearls from Shanghai

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend. But stunning snow-white pearls from China may help save the lives of women and girls this holiday season.

Fresh from Shanghai, Ami Lin sold a sea of pink, white, purple and gray pearls at a fundraiser tea party this past weekend in McLean, Va. Her clientele includes the Clintons, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, and her four pearl shops in Shanghai have made her so famous that she has been featured in Forbes magazine.

Pearls are hardly passé — even presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was asked about her jewel preferences at the recent Las Vegas debate when a college kid piped up, “Diamonds or pearls?” Answer: She likes both.

The Tahirih Justice Center, an organization that offers pro bono legal assistance to immigrant women and girls in danger, threw the fundraiser. The center focuses on issues such as sex trafficking, granting women asylum from violent or abusive relationships and combating gender-based crimes such as female mutilation. The decade-old center has helped save the lives of 6,500 women.

In attendance were Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, who sits on the organization’s board of directors, and the Princess Sarah Zeid, wife of Jordanian Ambassador Prince Zeid Raad. Karen Otazo Hofmeister, the wife of Shell USA CEO John Hofmeister, was also there to seek Lin out.

“For me, it’s an honor to work to support courageous women from around the world who are seeking justice from violence,” said center founder Lali Miller-Muro. “It costs us $4,000 to save a woman’s life. It would be great to be able to save more.”

At a stately home in McLean, Lin set out her pearls on a grand piano top, a lovely mahogany and gold armoire, and a large oval dining room table in a sparkling display of jewels of all price ranges. Over tea, pumpkin scones and miniature chicken salad sandwiches, women marveled at the pearls, clasping on the necklaces and bracelets to see which pieces they preferred.

They were an easy sell — as fundraiser attendees perused the pearls, they knew their purchases were going toward a life-saving cause. As the women bought the exquisite pearls from Lin, many ordered two, three and four more for relatives and friends. Forty percent of the proceeds will go the Tahirih Justice Center.

For those who still want to get in on the pearl game, Lin hosts another sale Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the lobby of 555 12th St. NW.

The Tahirih Justice Center was founded by Miller-Muro in 1997, when she was a student attorney helping out in the well-publicized asylum case of Fauziya Kassindja. A 17-year-old who had fled Togo in fear of a forced polygamous marriage and female genital mutilation, she arrived in the United States only to spend more than 17 months in detention. Kassindja was finally granted asylum on appeal, and her case established a national precedent, enabling women to receive asylum on the basis of gender-based persecution.

Miller-Muro later co-wrote a book with Kassindja, entitled Do They Hear You When You Cry, a portion of whose proceeds helped create the Tahirih Justice Center.

To learn more about the Tahirih Justice Center, or to donate funds, visit www.tahirih.org.