Name: Rachel O’Neill
Business: Little Dresses for Africa
Location: Brownstown, Michigan, U.S.
Industry: Children Goods & Services
Reason for starting? When visiting Africa, I noticed the little girls and that, no matter how hard they worked, they always came last. I wanted to do something that would honor these girls and plant in their hearts that they are worthy. I decided to bring some little dresses to distribute. Volunteers from all over the world make these little dresses and we say, “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope.” Through the distribution of these dresses in very remote villages, we show them they are not forgotten and teach simple lessons on clean water, sanitation and nutrition. Our projects have expanded to water, primary education and community through these little dresses. Although with us, the girls come first, we also distribute items to the little boys as well. We work with the local communities to help and encourage.
How do you define success? Success is finding your passion and devoting your life to it. Success is becoming all you can be as a person and helping others reach their potential as well. Success is giving to people without expecting a thank you or a payback. Success is being content wherever you are, while still continuing to push forward as a person.
My goals are to continue to grow the organization so that we can expand into other countries and provide incomes for people to ensure their futures. We are building a sewing center and will be sharing not only a marketable skill but also an elementary skill on money management, which is new to so many of them, especially the women.
Biggest success: The development of Little Dresses for Africa has been an exciting experience because it continues to grow and develop in ways that I never dreamed. I have been able to travel to Africa twice a year for 10 years and meet some of the most beautiful people on earth. Opening a school named for my mother, an educator, was humbling and exciting, and the second school was almost as exciting. We have developed a warehouse so that the distributions can continue even when we are not in country, and I love knowing that the work continues with or without me. We have organized a board of directors in Malawi for the same reason, and it’s very good to have their support. We have made great friends with Senior Chief Kachindamoto, who rescues young girls from child marriages, and she is an inspiration that I would have never dreamed of knowing, much less being friends with. Everything about this is exciting and helps me grow as a person as I learn about other cultures.
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? One challenge is connecting people who are making the dresses and the people that need them, so that not all of them have to come through the home office. I would love to have a way to organize them without sacrificing quality, to get them to the kids faster and reduce shipping costs.
I am a female running a nonprofit that works primarily in Africa, so it has been exciting to show that culture and specifically those women that it is quite possible to be a woman that gets things done and can be respected by women and men both. I believe my presence there is breaking down barriers and helping young girls see past roles that they thought they were limited to. I love working in Africa because each time I am there, it’s new all over again.
Who is your most important role model? I love strong women and men that are not intimidated by them. My mother and my five sisters are all strong women, and I respect each of them and their unique qualities in different ways. I would say I don’t have a role model because each of us are intended to be our own unique person, but I like to take what I can learn from different people to combine with my own personal talents to be the best I can be.
Edited by The Story Exchange