One of the items on my Life List is to sew 50 little dresses for Africa. It’s a pretty simple task and even with my meager sewing skills I could possibly knock it out in a couple of weekends. But I added it to my Life List because it’s an important project for me that doesn’t need to get thrown in the closet along with all my other crafty attempts.
Little Dresses for Africa is a non-profit that donates homemade pillowcase dresses to orphans in Africa. (there’s also a Britches for Boys, before anyone starts…) These kids are in remote villages that have been affected by the AIDS pandemic and in addition to donating the dresses, the group also hold camps and informal classes on sanitation, nutrition and health.
In order to volunteer, all you have to do is follow their pattern (or use your own) and construct simple, easily sizable dresses and then send them to LDFA. They then package them for mission groups to take with them to Africa, or mail the dresses directly. I chose to start making dresses because I love crafty stuff and have been trying to learn to sew for a very long time. (Sewing is less like riding a bike than it is like learning a language – you have to continue it in order to keep your skills. I spent a lot of time in the costume shop while in college and even had a summer where all I did was costume construction. Then I graduated and became the suck.) LDFA seemed a really good way for me to be crafty and spend time and energy on doing something good. A win all around.
As you may have guessed, the group is Christian-based. That usually troubles me because with Christian-based non-profits I’m never sure of their exact ministry message. I’m Catholic, but a non-practicing, hippie, liberal, pro-LGBT rights ones. (I know.) But here’s my thinking on this. You can never be sure of a group’s real message. I can spend a lot of time searching around to find a group that fits my exact ideology, or I go with one that feels right and spend that time doing some good. And I’ll just have to go on faith that they are not embroidering “Man+Woman=Marriage” logos on the front my donations.
There’s a tendancy, when I mention this project, for people to go, “Well, don’t you think they need the money more than a dress?” Well, yes. But it’s not like these children are lying in the street starving and then the clean white folks walk up, hand them a dress and bide them good day. The kids basic needs are already being taken care of, and LDFA tries to help take care other needs. And this particular need is for clothing that is pretty and practical. Don’t you remember how it felt when you were little and wore something pretty? It didn’t have to be dress, just something that was fun and something you loved? I remember being heartbroken when I tried to “help” my mom do laundry and poured bleach on the clothes, ruining my blue and white striped sailor dress with the red piping. It’s really nice to think that maybe something I make might one day be the favorite dress of a stranger a half a world away.
And don’t get me started on the “we have children who need help here in America!” statements. I give blood, I’m an organ donor, I’ve been on the bone marroe registry for 10 years, I add a dollar to my grocery bill for the charity of the week nearly every damn time I shop and I donate to food banks when I can. My conscience is clear. When they start Little Dresses for Wisconsin, call me.
Here is one of my favorite attempts. I got the fabric after requesting clean linens and unused fabric on Freecycle and the bias tape that I used to finish the arm holes are with from a giant spool I got off of Ebay. So, in all, this dress cost me maybe 25 cents to make. And it’s cute, right? (It used to be a tablecloth.)
There’s no guarantee that the little girl who gets this dress will like it. Or that it will fit right or that it will even get worn very much. But charity should not be done based on guarantees. It should be done based on the hope that what you’re doing will help someone at some point some day. And true good isn’t accomlished with grand gestures, but small kindnesses.
Plus, sewing is fun.
So let me know what y’all think! If you care about this project, maybe it’ll spur me into action to get it completed that much sooner. Are there any charities or organizations that are near and dear to your heart?