Little Dresses for Little Darlings
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Little Dresses for Little Darlings

How traveler Elizabeth Garvey helps spread a message of hope on behalf of the women of America

Elizabeth Garvey is a dedicated world traveler, touring with Grand Circle and Overseas Adventure Travel 17 times in the past six years. Lately, she's been filling her suitcase with more than just climate-appropriate travel gear. On adventures in Tanzania, South Africa, and Israel, Elizabeth has given out over 600 dresses to local girls in need. How does she bring that many dresses and still have room for her own clothes? She says the key is that "whatever luggage you check is filled with things you're giving away. You can live out of a carry-on quite easily!"

Elizabeth works with Little Dresses for Africa (LDFA), a nonprofit founded in 2007 to make and donate clothing to impoverished girls unable attend school because they lacked appropriate clothes. Following LDFA's pattern, Elizabeth, her church group, women's group, and friends make simple dresses out of pillowcases for girls around the world.

She says, "Women who have no affiliation with OAT, some of whom have never been out of Michigan, are doing this for girls around the world. They donate them year-round so I can take them on my annual trip." Elizabeth also makes sure to include her fellow OAT travelers in her message of hope, telling recipients, "The dresses are from the group, not just me, as gifts from the women of America."

At Lakia Bedouin village in Israel during her November 2011 trip, Elizabeth gifted nearly 60 dresses to the daughters of women involved in The Association for the Improvement of Women's Status, the first organization of its kind in Israel and a bastion of hope for Bedouin women who wish to advance their position in a traditionally patriarchal society. The formerly nomadic Bedouins are also hindered by the fact that settlements like Lakia are not recognized by the government, and tribe members who reside here have no status in Israel.

Founded by a team of four women in 1992, the association focuses on the ancient craft of embroidery to help women earn an income—and a sense of independence. Elizabeth says, "The people at Lakia were so delightful and excited. I have a picture of a mother just oozing love all over her little girl in her new dress."

While the association primarily works with adult women, Grand Circle Foundation is helping them to extend their influence to the next generation. Through our Young Bedouin Women's Leadership Project, girls aged 14-18 are currently learning to speak English—a huge benefit for future employment in an area where the quality of Arab-English instruction in schools is notoriously poor.

In Israel and on other adventures, Elizabeth works closely with our Trip Leaders in deciding where to donate dresses. She had high praise for her Israeli Trip Leader, Leor Rosenburg. "He was warm, wonderful, funny, and a great storyteller. He had us connected to all the sights and experiences throughout the trip."

Today, Elizabeth is contemplating her next adventure and passing along her love of travel and philanthropy to her grandchildren. She says, "They have a real sense that we need to not only appreciate other cultures, but that we also have a responsibility to help them."

Featured in our November 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.