Little Dresses for Africa is an amazing organization with an equally fascinating story. The brainchild of Rachel O’Neill, Little Dresses for Africa, is a nonprofit 501c3 Christian organization, which provides relief to children of Africa. Simple dresses are made out of pillowcases and distributed through the orphanages, churches, and schools in Africa to plant in the hearts of little girls that they are worthy! Reaching the milestone of providing TWO MILLION dresses to little girls, Rachel and other volunteers are organizing the first annual Sending Hope Conference August 8–9, 2014 in Shipshewana, IN. I’ll be joining the Little Dresses for Africa team for this special conference.
I first interviewed Rachel on Sewing With Nancy in ’09 and later in ’12. Partly because of those interviews and other media coverage given to this worthy cause, many of you have been inspired to sew and give. Thank you!
Get to Know Little Dresses for Africa
In a recent interview with Rachel, I found out the history of Little Dresses for Africa and her vision for the future.
Nancy: What was the impetus for starting Little Dresses for Africa?
Rachel: Little Dresses for Africa began after my first trip to Africa for my 50th birthday. My husband and I thought we were going for a vacation. More than that, we were deeply touched by the people of Africa and began looking for a way to get back there.
I was invited to join a mission team to Malawi and it was there that I interacted with the children. It was quickly apparent to me that the girls/women did the majority of the work and yet they seemed to always come last. I wanted to do something to show these little girls that we love them and that they are valued as an individual. It was in conversation with two of my friends, sitting in the red dirt of Malawi, that we said, “Let’s bring back little dresses when we return to show them that we love them.”
We are not looking to change their culture or society. We just want to plant a seed in the hearts of little girls to show them they are worthy. So that’s exactly what we did. We looked for a simple pattern. The pillowcase dress pattern has been around since pioneer women made them out of feed sacks. It wasn’t original but it was easy for even a novice seamstress. After that it just seemed to catch on all over the country and beyond.
Sewing enthusiasts from all 50 US states, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, and Australia are sewing for Little Dresses for Africa and Little Britches for Boys. Click here for the Little Dresses Pattern and the Britches Pattern. Volunteers cross age, gender, and denominational lines.
Nancy: Why do you think Little Dresses for Africa strikes a cord in so many people?
Rachel: Little Dresses for Africa addresses a need in the most vulnerable of God’s children—little girls. Your readers and TV viewers realize that feeling valued is important to each of us and that sewing talent can make the difference in a life. Little Dresses for Africa gives sewing enthusiasts an outlet—a way to help. Our organization is a Christian nonprofit, run by all volunteers, assuring them that their generosity is getting directly to the kids and not to some big corporate machine.
The sewn dresses and also britches are sent out weekly with mission teams, mailed, or sent with our team on our annual trip.
Nancy: Since I first interviewed you on Sewing With Nancy in ’09 and now five years later, how has your organization grown?
Rachel: Little Dresses for Africa continues to grow but I have to say I can tell every time an interview with you is shown on Sewing With Nancy. We get some of the most beautiful work from your viewers. The little dresses are sturdy, well sewn, and creative. During my first interview with you, I reported that 20,000 dresses were sewn; I thought, “Wow! That’s a lot of kids!” But now, with your help, our exposure through other media, and the help of many churches and community groups, what started out as a desire to send 1,000 dresses to one little Village has grown exponentially!
We’ve been able to send little dresses to 48 countries in Africa as well as 29 other countries outside of Africa, such as Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, India, Viet Nam, and Puerto Rico. We are approaching the milestone of sewing and giving away 2,000,000 dresses (actually 1,765,000 but we receive 15–20 boxes a day delivered to our house)! We are amazed and delighted!
With all those amazing numbers, we need to also stop and take note that we are not going to run out of children to dress. As our mission spreads, the requests for help continue to increase.
Nancy: What keeps you motivated to further expand this cause?
Rachel: I see the difference that the little dresses make here (United States) as well as across the ocean. We increase an awareness of the plight of others and address the real physical and emotional needs of others. We embrace other cultures. We break down barriers.
I see women and communities working together to help others. I hear from women who are homebound or who have lost their husbands who have again found a sense of purpose. I see grandmothers teaching their grandchildren, both boys and girls, to sew and at the same time help others. I see sewing groups forming and a sense of support and community existing.
Once a year I lead a team to Africa and never tire of seeing the faces of those beautiful children. The pride in their eyes as they show each other what they are now wearing is motivating. They dance in circles as they leave us with their new dresses. I see the light in their eyes as they realize there’s no catch to receive this gift.
When we go into communities, we teach simple lessons about nutrition, clean water, and sanitation. We address their needs as best we can. We feed them. We love them, never knowing what child will be encouraged as a result of our efforts. Our favorite saying is, “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope.” The truth is, they also give us hope. Hope that we can make a difference in a child’s life.
Nancy: I will be joining you in August at your first, and hopefully annual event, Sending Hope Conference. Please tell our readers more about the conference.
Rachel: The conference will take place in Shipshewana, Indiana August 8–9, 2014 at the beautiful Farmstead Inn and Conference Center. It begins on Friday night August 8, at 5 pm, and goes till Saturday at 4 pm; we’ll have vendors, and there will be baskets to raffle. On Saturday we’ll have several outstanding speakers on subjects that are dear to the hearts of all of us regardless of your level of involvement in Little Dresses for Africa. And, I’ll be quite honest; many are coming to meet you, Nancy, so the VIP registration includes a Meet and Greet and a chance to get their copy of your book signed on Friday night. Also that night is a dinner and a late night pajama party with prizes and raffles, and a great chance to share ideas and network with friends met through Facebook.
We’ll have a lot of fun! Plus, it makes a great getaway in the Amish-quilting hub, with great shopping as well. Of course we are very grateful that you’ll be our featured speaker on Saturday, as we start things off. We have other very high energy, talented speakers coming to share their thoughts on topics of interest to all of us, like “Turning Success to Significance” and “Life in Africa” with our special Guest from Malawi, Mike Mchawa Banda. The list goes on and on. We’ll also have breakout sessions to learn how the sani-panti pattern works, which is a new project, based out of need in Africa; we’ll have a professional scrapper help us make “Gratitude Books” and “Brave Girl Truth Cards.” Plus, learn about Essential Oils. It’s quite a line up!
Nancy: What are your goals for the Sending Hope Conference?
Rachel: The conference will be a great way to network with others of like interests. It will be a wonderful way to exchange ideas, recharge our batteries, and find out what other projects like clean water and education have grown out of Little Dresses for Africa.
All of the profits from the registration will go 100% toward shipping dresses to the children, which continues to be our greatest challenge. Our job is not complete until we get these dresses on the backs of these children that need them most. We’re just so grateful and so humbled by the group effort.
Please Join Us at the Sending Hope Conference!
Bye for now,
Content in this feed is © copyright 2014 by Nancy Zieman and may not be republished without written permission. You’re welcome to forward the email to a friend or colleague but it’s not okay to add the RSS feed automatically as content on a blog or other website.