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Darla Senecal had heard that children in Zambia need help but it wasn't until she saw a talk show featuring Mothers Without Borders (MWB) founder Kathy Headlee Miner that she really understood why: There are millions of kids living in poverty there (more than 800,000 who lost one or both parents to AIDS). Inspired to take action, she told her friend Nancy Luke that the two of them had to find a way to pitch in. The prospect of making a difference in the poverty-stricken country definitely seemed daunting: Few of the children have access to the most basic necessities, like food, shelter, and clothing.
Still, as mothers themselves, Senecal and Luke were determined to help. They formed a local chapter of MWB in their hometown of Bristol, Vermont, with eight of their friends and neighbors. Shortly after their second meeting the women spotted an announcement on the national MWB Web site: Thousands of Zambian girls desperately need dresses. Instructions for making a basic dress, done by stitching a skirt onto the bottom of a T-shirt, were included in the posting. "The concept was so simple, yet genius," says Senecal. The Bristol group made it their mission to contribute as many dresses as possible to the cause -- and to get their community involved. They posted flyers inviting everyone in the area to a Saturday sewathon at their town hall and left collection boxes for T-shirts, skirts, and sewing supplies at local stores. "This project seemed so doable, especially since I knew many other moms would be inspired to help," says Luke.
In fact, the Bristol MWB members and nearly 200 local volunteers stitched more than 1,000 dresses. One of their group members even flew to Zambia to help deliver the clothes. Thrilled by their success, the group held a second sewathon the following year and another two events each year after that, bringing their grand total to more than 3,000 dresses. The women are planning a fifth event next year, with no plans to stop anytime soon. For Luke the experience proved that you don't need to have a lot of money to make a difference in someone's life. "Everyone was able to make a contribution whether it was fabric, thread, or simply their time," she says. "Bit by bit we got the job done."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2010.