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Students make dresses for girls in Africa

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By Jenean Zahran
Collegiate Staff Writer

When you walk into Jean Piccard’s classroom, you will see sewing machines, desks, and
hopeful students that can create artwork simply out of fabric and needles. The class, Clothing Construction, a requirement for all Fashion Merchandising students, has decided to take up a new project for the winter semester.

“I found out about the ‘Little Dresses for Africa’ organization from the Grand Rapids Press and it immediately fell into my lap,” Piccard says.

According to Rachel O’ Neill, one of the founders of Little Dresses for Africa, this organization is a non-profit and Christian based organization that provides aid for African girls by making and sending them dresses.

After O’ Neill’s mission trip to Africa years ago, they got a glimpse of how they treated the women and girls over there and came up with the idea to create dresses out of pillow cases for them.

“I got a chance to see how oppressed women were over in Africa. They make all the food, take care of all the children, and only eat after everyone else has been fed. I wanted to make them feel worthy and give them hope,” O’ Neill said.

The pillow case idea came about because it made the process a lot easier and quicker because they are generally bright colors, the hem is already there and all they had to do was cut holes in it for the arms and neck.

Being created in 2007, the organization has since blown up and has been a huge success having already received over 130,000 dresses that have been distributed to over 22 countries in Africa.

This is not the first time Piccard has proposed a charitable project to her students, and said she always provides the students with an option to do a charitable case every semester.

“One year it was polar fleece hats, another was for Catholic Charities here in Michigan and I had my students make pajama bottoms for foster children,” Piccard says. “It’s a great way to give back to our community.”

Taking the alternate route and making the dresses from scratch rather than using pillow cases, it expands their options for designing the dresses. When making the dresses the students must make sure they are long enough to cover their knees because of the culture of the nations the dresses go to, and they have the option to make different sizes ranging from small to extra large.

“Aren’t my students talented?” Piccard asked with a smile. “I feel like this is a great experience for the students to think about children outside of America, and have them realize even the smallest thing can make a difference.”

Jean Piccard does admit when she first presented this to her students, not many of them seemed interested.

“When I presented something like this to my students, I had no one interested. They already had other projects to work on, but when they were finished with them some decided to start on the dresses,” Piccard said. “They’re very simple dresses and don’t take very long to make.”
Rachel Andre, one of the students participating in the project, is very grateful to have had this task presented to her.

“I really enjoyed making the dresses because I know there are people in different countries who can’t always afford the best,” Andre says. “It really does provide a learning experience throughout the whole process. I don’t have kids myself, so I got a chance to think outside the box and choose what I thought little girls would like on a dress.”

Having eight dresses done already and in hopes of making more, Piccard and her students have the best feeling knowing what they’re doing is going to change a person’s life. The smallest act can make a difference, and GRCC is definitely accomplishing that.

To find out more information about the organization, visit http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/.