For her 50th birthday, Rachel O’Neill’s husband took her on her dream vacation to Africa. While visiting different villages, O’Neill was moved by the spirit, colors and people of Africa.
Eighteen months later, O’Neill returned to Africa. This time her destination was Malawi in central Africa. While sitting and having lunch with the people of Malawi, O’Neill wanted to do something special for the girls.
"Unfortunately the girls come last in Africa," said O’Neill. "I wanted to do something special for these little girls. I wanted to make them some dresses and I wanted them to feel pretty."
Three years ago, the O’Neills started Little Dresses for Africa with six women in a church basement. In three hours, they made four dresses. The simple dresses are made out of pillow cases. O’Neill, who doesn’t sew, set a goal of sending 1000 dresses to Africa.
As word began to spread, community spirit stepped in. O’Neill’s effort turned into a national movement. O’Neill received dresses from all over the country. "Everyone has joined in together and we have made this a success," stated O’Neill. "Dads and families are helping out as well."
The organization has shipped over 100,000 dresses to more than 17 countries in Africa. Also, dresses have been shipped to Honduras, South Dakota, Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti. The dresses are distributed to churches, orphanages and schools.
For some of these young girls, the dress may be the first and only new thing they will own.
"We are honoring women all over the world. Women are helping other women," explained O’Neill. "Lives are changed on both sides of the ocean."
O’Neill is dumbfounded and amazed by the overwhelming generosity of the people who have donated.
For example, volunteers all over the U.S. are making dresses. One woman with multiple sclerosis is even making dresses. The volunteer feels good about contributing and making a difference. Another volunteer has found healing by helping others. This special volunteer didn’t leave her house for three years. But, little by little, she would venture out to buy material to make dresses. Ultimately, her own kindness healed her own spirit.