By Mara Knaub, Yuma SunPosted

YUMA, Ariz. — Dixie Hodgson will never forget what she saw during her recent trip to Africa.
“I saw so many children, all happy children, but they don’t have anything. I saw girls 8, 9 years old wearing dresses for a 5-year-old. They had probably worn them for years and were probably hand-me-downs.”

But Hodgson’s heart really broke when she saw their van stalled by the side of a rural road.

“I saw a little girl, her mom and brother walking to town. I’ll never forget it. The little girl was wearing a yellow and white dress. She was about 7 or 8, and I’m sure she was wearing a dress made for a 3-year-old. The back had only one button done, the rest I’m sure she could not do. It didn’t even cover her little butt, and she had no shoes on her feet.”

Hodgson, a winter visitor from Ontario, Canada, said she felt “helpless and depressed.”

So when she heard about Little Dresses for Africa, she went “berserk,” noted Helen Haslam.

“Yes, I can do something,” Hodgson said to herself.

With Haslam’s help, a group of women are sewing dresses for poor children in Africa. They plan to sew all winter, and some want to keep sewing when they return home for the summer.

Haslam, also a Canadian winter visitor, first heard of Little Dresses for Africa on a television news show last month.

“The poor in Africa suffer so much and we have so much here,” Haslam said. “I know there’s a need everywhere, but they are so poor there, they don’t even have enough to eat.”

She decided to sew dresses and invited other residents of Rancho Rialto to the sewing sessions. She asked them bring materials, and the patterns would come from the Little Dresses for Africa website.

She also asked for donations of materials and got them from Log Cabin Quilts, as well as discounts at other shops.

Seventeen women showed up for the first of two sessions on Feb. 3. The second session is scheduled for Feb. 22.

During a visit from the Yuma Sun, they were churning out dress after dress, all colorful and happy frocks, soliciting “oohs” and “aahs” every time one was completed.

Diane Wade of Alberta, Canada, said the effort made her feel good. “Everyone wants to feel as if you’re useful. We all want to help someone.”

“Everyone here is fortunate to be doing great. We want to pay it forward,” Haslam noted.

“Now that we’re retired, we want to volunteer and this is something fun, easy and for a good cause,” said Barb Pederson, another Canadian winter visitor.

“I just think Helen has done a great job organizing it and getting the patterns ready so we can just go and do it. And it’s nice to see all these ladies turn out.”

Little Dresses for Africa is a nonprofit, Christian-based organization that provides relief to children in Africa, according to its website.

It encourages people to make simple dresses out of pillowcases and other fabrics, which are then distributed through African orphanages, churches and schools “to plant in the hearts of little girls that they are worthy.”

The website explains a small group of women returning from a mission trip to Malawi began to sew simple little dresses for young girls in Africa. The effort continues to grow as sewing groups spring up across America.

The organization has received dresses and donations from all 50 of the United States and well over 120,000 little dresses that have been distributed in 18 African countries.

Simple patterns and instructions can be found on the organization’s website. Sewers are told to avoid buttons and zippers as they are difficult to repair in Africa. They’re told not to be concerned with exact measurements, and all sizes and variations are welcome, such as pockets or lace.

Finished items can be sent to the organization’s headquarters in Michigan. The site proclaims: “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope!”

The organization also takes care of little boys with Britches for Boys. Boys’ shorts are needed in any size.

The national organization as well as the Yuma sewing group will accept donations to pay for shipping and/or materials.

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