For her 50th birthday, Rachel O’Neill took the trip of a lifetime with her husband. They traveled to Africa for a safari, and she says she instantly fell in love with the children, people, sounds musics and texture of Africa.
But it was another trip to Africa, 18 months later with a mission trip, that changed her life forever. On that trip, she vowed that she would come back and she would bring dresses for the little girls.
Her idea spawned the charity Little Dresses for Africa. Since forming the non-profit Christian organization in 2007, Rachel and her volunteers have collected more than 150,000 dresses from all 50 states and more than 120,000 have already been distributed.
The dresses are made from pillowcases. So how did a woman who didn’t even know how to sew become the leader of such a big movement?
She said if she had thought about how big it could become, she probably would have been overwhelmed. But she just started small. At first, she wanted to make the dresses for a few girls. Then a school’s worth. Then, all the girls in a village, and so on.
And now, dresses (and britches for boys) have been donated to children in 22 countries in Africa and other troubled spots around the world, including Haiti, Cambodia and Indian reservations in the U.S.
Rachel explains that she focused her efforts on girls because typically in Africa, the girls come last when it comes to hand-outs but they’re often the hardest workers in families, taking care of the fields, the homes and even younger children.
“I wanted to honor these girls and make them realize that they’re worthy,” Rachel tells Growing Bolder.
Find out how these simple dresses evolved from a pattern that’s been used since pioneer days and how anyone can help, even if, like Rachel, you can’t sew either!
For much more information, visit littledressesforafrica.org.