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LITTLETON — With a firm belief that they can make a difference and living up to their motto that “Charity never faileth,” a group of local women belonging to the Littleton Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have decided to participate in a national program to create simple but colorful dresses for needy girls in Africa.

Gathering last week at the church located on Route 119, members of the congregation’s Relief Society spent the evening working to sew scores of dresses and prepare them for shipment to Michigan where the non-rofit Little Dresses for Africa organization is located.

“We do three or four service projects a year and like to rotate between something local and something bigger,” said Relief Society member Mandy Ostazewski. “That was appealing about the Little Dresses for Africa program. That, and a lot of our ladies like to sew.

“My neighbor was the first person I heard about Little Dresses for Africa from,” said Ostazewski. “We sew together and she told me about this website she found and we talked about it some. Then, when the Relief Society was looking for a project to do, someone else said how they heard about Little Dresses for Africa. I thought to myself, hey, there it is again. Everybody liked it so we decided to do that.”

Little Dresses for Africa was formed to provide relief to children in Central Africa in the form of clothing. The dresses made by volunteers taking part in the effort mostly conform to a single pattern, that of an ordinary pillow case fashioned with openings for head and arms and frequently decorated with colorful patterns that would enchant little girls anywhere in the world.

The idea came from missionaries working in Malawi who could not help but notice the tattered clothing worn by the children they met. They decided to do something about it and hit upon the idea of transforming pillowcases into dresses; something that was handy and could be easily transformed into a smock by even the most novice seamstress. Thus was a movement born.

The organizers of Little Dresses for Africa campaign hope that by distributing the gaily designed clothing, children will grow in self esteem and realize that God cares about them.

“Distributing the little dresses gives us an opportunity to hold camps and informal teaching sessions to increase (the children’s) knowledge in nutrition and sanitation and promote good health and family skills,” says the group’s mission statement. “We also visit patients who are suffering from AIDS and offer them encouragement and hope.”

Indeed, the plight of African children is often intertwined with the AIDS epidemic sweeping the continent. When parents are felled by the disease and children left as orphans, it is left to the older ones to care for younger siblings.

It was with the plight of these children in mind that the women of the Relief Society decided to do what they could to help out. So last week, dozens of women, both young and old, went to work with needle and thread to create scores of dresses thankful girls in Central Africa will be happy to wear.

“We’re hoping we can make a lot of them,” said Ostazewski. “We have a bunch of people from church who donated fabric and hopefully we’ll use it all. I think we’re going to get a lot of people there. We’re going to have a good turnout because people are very excited about it.”

The church’s Relief Society was formed in 1842 and has since spread around the world. The Littleton branch is comprised of women from such area communities as Acton, Ayer, Bolton, Boxborough, Devens, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Littleton, Pepperell, Shirley, Stow, and Townsend.

Those seeking more information about Little Dresses for Africa can visit the organization on the net at

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