Helping to dress a girl around the world

Esther Clark started a project to 'dress a girl around the world' and recently took 170 dresses to The Gambia SUS-140317-104013001
Esther Clark started a project to 'dress a girl around the world' and recently took 170 dresses to The Gambia SUS-140317-104013001

A team of ladies came together at The Cloth Store, Horsham, last month following an appeal to help local artist Esther Clark ‘dress a girl around the world’.

The workshop based in the Carfax saw many sewers donating materials and making dresses for the project which revolves around the idea that every girl in the world deserves a pretty dress.

With others also sewing at home and donating various dresses to the cause, Esther aimed to send 100 dresses to The Gambia.

Once she gathered a vast amount of garments, Esther then visited the country and the children who would benefit from the project. Esther explained: “When my husband and I left for The Gambia in February we brought 170 little dresses and shorts with us.

“Once there we met up with Southwater’s Pippa and Ian Howard from Pageant, an educational charity helping children through school (and sometimes university!), and two of their local staff.

“They knew the perfect destination for the little clothes; three compounds (walled living areas for a number of families with their huts and land) in dry and dusty Jambanjeli and Brikama.

“We were expected at the first compound, where a handful of people welcomed us, and placed chairs in a circle under the mango trees, scattering chickens to make space,” she recalled.

“By the time we had sat down, dozens of smiling faces surrounded us, and even more children had arrived by the time we had chatted about the health and wellbeing of all families involved.

“We got the first lot of dresses ready, handing them out to the still-increasing queue of children – the effectiveness of the jungle drums!

“Once they were all wearing something new, a girl started beating a drum (an old plastic container) at a speed that made the sticks near-invisible, the rhythm launching the other kids into a dance in the centre of the circle, their little feet whipping up the dust at a pace that would make Michael Flatley seem slack.”

She added: “ Soon, we were invited to join in as well and although we felt big, white, and clumsy, there was no doubt it was the most fun, exciting, and moving dance I’ve ever done. What an fabulous way to say thank you! And they hadn’t finished yet, as the women had also cooked us lunch.

“We were taken into a hut where we were brought six spoons and a large bowl of rice, cooked with lady fish, cassava, and carrot, and oranges to finish with – a beautiful meal. At the next two compounds our experiences were similar, except that we ran out of dresses and shorts, as the queue of children went on and on. Fortunately we had also brought lots of packs of pencils and pens, and sheets of well-done stickers; these are as popular with Gambian school children as they are here!

“I still have fabrics left, and I have already been promised more little dresses, so I guess I’ll continue sewing - but at a slower pace. The next batch will go to Uganda, and/or Madagascar, where my daughter will soon start work. If anyone is interested in sewing these lovely, simple, little frocks or shorts, or would like to donate material, do get in touch (01403 272978 or Esthervanoostrum@aol.com).”

Esther continued: “Soaring temperatures, Sahara dust, shady mango trees, queues of children, their singing, their fabulous dancing, and their colourful mums all made an indelible impression on us. Helping people by handing out clothes might seem a bit like dripping water on parched ground, but it does demonstrate that people in a faraway country think of them, and care enough to sew for them.

“They made an impact on us, and I think that we made an impact on the children and families we met, and I hope that all those people who supported the project here, will feel good about it, too.”