The Dress for an Education Challenge

This past summer, I spent several weeks teaching creative writing to kids. While I loved all the children I worked with, I grew especially close to those who stayed for more than one week. There was one girl in particular who was there from my first day to my last. At first, she had a very hard time writing. I sat with her and went through her story sentence by sentence.

“I just can't do this,” she said. “Writing is so hard.”

By the last week, she was writing entire pages by herself. Seeing the change in her after only a few weeks was so rewarding, but it also made me think. Every child deserves an education. Every child deserves the kind of environment and support that will allow them to flourish. If this is the difference that only a few weeks of encouragement can make for one child, how much of a difference can a real education make for one girl? For one generation of girls?

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.

It's a big leap to make, I know. But I have a bleeding heart, and I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what I can do to ease some of the world's problems. I've come to the simple conclusion that I can't do anything about all the problems in the world. I can't do anything about most of the problems in the world. But I may be able to do a little bit about one problem.

I'd like to focus on girls' education.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Why girls' education?

Despite the strides that we as a global community have made in changing the problem of gender inequality, girls continue to suffer – and education makes an enormous difference. 75% of instances of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are among women and girls – but a girl with an education is three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS. 14 million under aged girls get married every year – that's 13 every 30 seconds – but a girl with an education is four times less likely to enter into a child marriage. Gender pay inequality continues to be a huge issue throughout the world, but a girl with one extra year of education can earn up to 20% more as an adult.

There are many organizations looking to help make girls' education possible, but my favorite is Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education. They invest in the education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, and Tanzania. Since 1993, they have helped send 1,419,000 children go to primary and secondary school, using grassroots, government, and civil organization, and the influence and input of the women and girls in question.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.What will you be doing?

Over the month of September – or “back to school” month in the United States – I will be trying to raise $300 for Camfed by doing something a little different. Every day in September, I will be wearing one dress. The same dress. This “uniform” is meant to represent the school uniforms that millions of girls throughout the world do not get to wear because they do not have access to an education. By giving up something small – my freedoms in choosing what I wear – I hope to help give them something big – the freedoms and opportunities that an education can bring. I will be blogging about it, and looking to raise awareness and money for Camfed both on my blog and in my personal life.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Why Camfed?

I chose Camfed as my charity for a few reasons. First, 90% of their funds received go directly to their programs (while some other charities I reviewed had rates as low as 44%). Second, I like that they work with existing local structures, rather than injecting themselves into a culture and situation about which they do not know as much as local people. Third, I love that they do not just fund the cost of the girls' tuition; they pay for supplies, school costs, and room and board; offer health education and teacher training; and have a graduate network that allows graduates of Camfed's programs to come together to make change in their community.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Why $300?

It costs $300 to send a girl in sub-Saharan Africa to school for one year, covering school fees, room and board, uniforms, books, and school supplies. If we reach this goal before the end of the month, I will set a new, higher goal.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Why a dress?

Some people might think that wearing the same dress for 30 days is not especially attention-grabbing or even challenging. I chose it as my challenge for a few reasons. First, as I said above, I chose a plain dress that looks much like a school uniform to represent the school dresses that many girls across the world do not get to wear because they cannot go to school. Second, clothes make a statement, and a difference in the way that people perceive us. By wearing the same dress every day for thirty days, I hope to catch people's attention and make them think about their own choices and freedoms. Third and finally, you all know I love ethical fashion. I can't think of a more ethical fashion statement than a charity fundraising campaign.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Why a month?

I wrestled with this. There are people who have done similar projects for several months or even a year. But I would rather do something really well for a shorter period of time, than set my sights too high and fail. I can always choose to add more time to my challenge as I get closer to the finish line.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.What are the rules?

Oh rules. Everyone's favorite thing.

  • I will wear the dress every day except when working out, doing laundry, or sleeping. Yes, that means I will be wearing it to formal occasions. Hoo boy.
  • To make it a little clearer that this is an intentional statement (and not just me being very unhygienic), I will also be wearing one of three buttons: “Ask my why I'm wearing this dress,” “Ask me about girls' education,” and “I'm wearing this dress for those who can't go to school” (for those days that I cannot explain one more time what I am doing).
  • I plan to carry around printed letters with information about my challenge and a link to Camfed's website to give to people who ask me about my project.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.What if you fail?

$300 is a lot of money. I know that, and I know that I may likely not reach that goal. But whether I hit my goal or not, all money donated will still go to Camfed. If I only raise $10, I can still buy school supplies for one child. If I only raise $25, I can still pay for a girl's primary school education for one year. And if I only raise $40, I can still buy a girl a school uniform. That's not failure. That's progress.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.How can I help?

There are two things you can do:

  1. Donate. I start this challenge on September 1st, 2015. Join me in donating today so we can start the campaign strong. Head over to the Camfed fundraising website now!
  2. Share. Share this blog post, news of this challenge, or a link to Camfed's page to raise awareness and hopefully get other people to donate, as well.

The Dress for an Education challenge. I'm wearing only one dress for 30 days to raise money to send girls in Africa to school.Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Leave them in the comments below!

I am really looking forward to this and I hope you are, too. I can't wait to share my journey with you, and hopefully raise a lot of money for this great cause. Let's go!

Love, Sara Laughed

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, recent grad, and American abroad. I graduated from college in December and promptly moved to the Netherlands, where I live with my boyfriend and our 11 plants. Follow along as I figure out my roaring twenties: I don't quite know what I'm doing, but that's not stopping me from writing about it!

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