Former teacher Brenda Walko sews dresses for African children

Living in a nice community and going to a suburban public school can make someone forget about the troubles outside of his country. Former high school teacher, Brenda Walko has taken on a challenge to help others across the world.

Walko was surfing the internet when she came across an article on Facebook about a woman named Lillian Weber and an organization she was helping.

Weber is a 99-year-old woman who resides in Iowa. She makes a dress everyday, and in the last two years, she has made over 840 dresses. Weber will turn 100 in May 2015 and plans to reach a goal of 1,000 dresses by then.

Weber has been sewing clothes for Little Dresses for Africa since 2011. She and a group of women, who are almost all over the age of 80, decided to support the organization together.

“I was watching a documentary about the [nonprofit] organization, and thought it would be a great idea for some of us to get together to help some people who live so far away,” Judy Noel, one of the group’s members, told Quad-City Times.Walko saw Weber’s story, heard about LDFA, and she was inspired.

“I thought if she could do this at 99-years-old, I can do this,” Walko said.

Started by Rachel O’ Neill from Michigan in 2008, LDFA has spread its efforts across the country. This Christian charitable organization provides relief to children in Africa. Even though all 47 countries in Africa receive most the generous donations, other nations in need accept dresses; some even go to parts of the United States.

The LDFA motto is “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending HOPE.” Each donation will make a huge difference in the lives of many.

“They go to Appalachian, where there is a lot of poverty, and also somewhere in South Dakota,” Walko said.

With the help of Neelam Bhatia, Miranda Senn and Lisa Myers, Walko has made 80 dresses in three weeks. The teachers gave her materials to turn into cute dresses for the girls.

“She is using material that would usually be wasted, [but she uses it] for something good,” junior Roman Lovell said. “The situation is beneficial for both parties. Mrs. Walko finds good use of what would be [thrown away], and whomever receives the dresses are getting new clothes.”

Walko also obtains fabric from thrift shops and some of her family and friends. She will take any left over material or pillowcases. The pillowcases are ready hemmed at the bottom, so they are very convenient to sew.

According to LittleDressesForAfrica.org, “The pillowcase pattern has been around since the pioneer days and is easy enough for even a novice seamstress…. With just a little help, they can be turned into bright little sundresses, perfectly suited for the African climate.”

The dresses are also sewn with adjustable straps, so as the girls grow taller, they can still wear the same dresses. The dresses also come in many sizes, so girls of all ages can have one.

One can donate a check to LDFA, 24614 Curtis Drive Brownstown, MI 48134.

Donations can also be made through their website LittleDressesForAfrica.org. Both the dresses and money are greatly appreciated by the founders and each little girl in a struggling country.

“There are collection places around the united states and then they like missionaries to take them so that they do not get into the hands of people who might not get them to the little girls,” Walko said.

According to O’Neill, 2.5 million dress have been sent to other countries so far.

Walko does not have a specific goal for the amount of dresses she will make; however, she is going  to “keep doing it as long as I want to. I think I will be doing it for a long time. It is a good retirement [activity].”

To help continue the efforts, Walko is willing to teach anyone who is interested in making dresses for the organization. She would love for anyone to help those who are in need.

Any student or teacher who wants to donate scraps of fabric to Walko, principal Kathy Thomas collects the items in her office for Walko.

“[These women] will be changing so many lives. We should contribute, as a school and community, as much as we can,” junior Mackenzie Bowers said. “Helping out even in the simplest way will benefit so many people worldwide.”

Even if it is a big step, like creating a sewing party like those that happened in Dover, Delaware; Akron, Iowa and Richland, Washington, or giving a dollar to the cause, students and educators from the high school should try to help the organization. An easy step would be by giving Walko bits of fabric.

Walko said, “[With each dress,] a little bit of Stow is going to Africa.”

Visit littledressesforafrica.org for more information.

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