Friday, December 02, 2011

Little Dresses for Africa (and a big thanks to Condoleeza Rice)

Strange and serendipitous things have been happening lately.

I have a cousin who is an executive for a very large company, and she belongs to a women's group, where Condoleeza Rice was recently invited to speak.  Before this event, each of the women in her group was asked to submit up to two questions, some of which would be answered during the Q&A session following the talk.  My cousin asked me to help her by suggesting a question or two for her to submit.

I asked a question on my daughter's behalf, and it was THE ONLY question chosen for Dr. Rice to answer.

I asked how a 10 year old (my daughter, let's say?) can get active now in things that will help her to nourish an interest in government/politics/international affairs.

Her answers were very interesting. To summarize, I'll list her biggest points below:

  • Study abroad when you have the opportunity.
  • Immerse yourself in the things that interest you. (piano, dance, writing, whatever)
  • Learn about other cultures. 
  • Seek out opportunities to learn outside of school.
  • Study a foreign language.  It can be any language, but she suggests Chinese - and not for the reasons you think! Do this because it changes the way you think.  Learning to write in characters will change the way you express yourself.

Okay... there is a lot more to what she said and why she said it, but, in a nutshell, here's what happened next.

My in-laws came to visit for Thanksgiving, and my daughter had a community service hours assignment for school to complete by December 1st.  She found herself needing a few more hours because she lost her log of hours completed prior to that date, with the supervisors' signatures.  I'm sure we could have resolved it, but she decided that she just wanted to start a new sheet, and forget about the 5 hours she would lose by having misplaced the first sheet.  I thought that was such a noble gesture, I didn't suggest that she do anything else.  So, she said she wanted to help at the soup kitchen at church for the Thanksgiving meal (which actually happens on Thanksgiving eve - we've partnered with another church in the area who serves on Thanksgiving Day).

I must admit, it wasn't really something I was eager to do.  I thought it would be sad.  But I did agree to help her, because she was actually excited about doing it.  I went over to our church, and asked if there was any way we could help.  I was told that if we came at 5 PM, they would find something for us to do.  We did go, and we were put in charge of the  tea and coffee service table.  It was the warmest, most peaceful, happy event!  So many of the people seemed to have language issues - day laborer types, and foreign-born people just down on their luck, and a full spectrum of others, too!  My daughter and I got a good chance to talk about why a person who comes here from another place might have a hard time finding a job, a place to live, money...  She was really energized by that experience, and I could see the wheels turning.

The following Sunday, we were at church again, and a woman from the women's group there, who knows my sewing abilities, asked me if I could help her with a project.  Her group wanted to sew pillowcase dresses, and wanted me to make a sample, to help them understand the instructions.  Very simple.  No problem.

I opened the package she gave me, and inside, was a link to the pattern instructions to make these dresses, for a program called "Little Dresses for Africa". So, my daughter still had community service time remaining to do for school, and I asked her if she would like to help me make one.  She agreed, so we started on a dress.  I stopped to look at the website after wondering why little pillowcase dresses were chosen as an important project for these children.  I read and explained to my daughter all I read about the program, about places where people are living in poverty, about the second-class citizen status of young girls and women in some of these cultures, and the message these dresses sought to convey.  My daughter was intrigued, and now, she wants to make more.

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