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Holy Trinity High School working to make a difference in another part of the world
It's schoolwork, but the lesson these Torbay teens learn isn't just something that can be graded on a report card.
Students enrolled in the clothing and textiles course at Holy Trinity High School make dresses from pillowcases that end up being shipped out of the country and warn by orphan children in Uganda.
It's a project — which is part of a worldwide initiative called Little Dresses for Africa — is taught at the school by Marie Woodford.
"It's just been amazing. The students love it," Woodford said. "It's been such a success. We see more and more students involved every year."
Wood started it nine years ago when she taught at Roncalli High School in Avondale. At that time, a secretary at Roncalli, Liz Mooney, who was also a Girl Guides leader, had suggested Woodford try it with her students after her Girl Guides group participated.
In its fifth year at Holy Trinity, students have created more than 1,000 dresses that have gone to eight developing countries.
"Students are making things and putting their sewing skills to use, but they go a step further and they put their newly learned skills to good use by helping out other people. And you realize that when you learn to do skills, you can do so much with them and help make the world a better place.
She said many of the students work extra hard for the project, making purses and friendship bracelets to be sent to the orphans as well. Some of them use the skills they've learned in class to make more clothes at home.
"A lot of them will try to go that extra mile because they know a little kid will wear it and they know their dress is going to have an impact on someone else's life," Woodford said.
"This is the most meaningful project they do throughout the year and it's definitely evident in their faces as they're sewing, their smiles. They really put their hearts into it."
Abi Driscoll, a Grade 12 student at the school, had always loved sewing, and she's glad she chose to enroll in the course and get involved in the project. She was especially touched to receive photos back, showing the Uganda children wearing their dresses.
"It's a really good thing to do, helping others," she said. "It was one thing to actually make the dresses, but knowing they're going to be shipped to Uganda for the kid, was awesome."
Woodford had arranged to have the dresses deliver to Uganda by her friends, Marjorie Williams and Betty Whelan, who are involved in HOPE (Helping Orphans Prosper through Education), a Newfoundland-based charity.
The women took photos of the orphan children wearing the dresses that were made by the students. They even arranged to have them FaceTime with them.
"I wanted to cry," Abi said, recalling the day she saw an orphan wearing her dress."Then to get to see them (on FaceTime) was amazing."
As president of the school's Welcome Wagon group, Grade 12 student Abigail Butler saw the project as a great opportunity to help international students to become involved and meet friends.
She approached Woodford with the idea of setting up an after-school dress-making session with the new students.
"They were so excited to do it," said Abigail, who participated in the course last year. "It was one thing to see how engaged they all were, but you could tell by the looks on their faces how focused they were. The closer they got to finishing their dresses, the more excited they got. That made me excited."
Abigail was never big into sewing until getting involved in the dressmaking project. She loves it so much, she asked for a sewing machine for Christmas to make more.
She recalls the day she saw a picture of one of the Ugandan children wearing a dress she made.
She was in the dressing room at the school, having just finished gym class, when, she noticed she had multiple Twitter notifications, as she had been tagged on several posts of the photo.
"It's a good thing I was in the change room because I snotted and bawled like a baby," she said, laughing. "I sat there and just cried and I'm not usually someone who cries like that.
"I don't think it really clicked in my mind that someone would actually be wearing it until I saw it. It didn't feel real to me until I saw that picture. It's indescribable."
Holy Trinity High School principal Susan Perry said students benefit a great deal from the course.
"This course provides an awesome opportunity for students have an authentic learning experience and make meaningful connections outside the local community, with the global community," she said.
"It truly provides students with a social, emotional learning, as well as opportunities for authentic learning, which is part of our growth plan at Holy Trinity High.
"The relationships they've had the opportunity to build with those students and young people they've chatted online with. Being able to build those kinds of relationships and see the impact they've had here is meaningful."