by Erin Odom
Since the January 2010 earthquake rocked the tiny country, Haiti’s birth rate has tripled — fueled mostly by rampant rapes in the tent cities, several reports have said.
It’s a stat that terrified Cammie Wilson.
Now, Wilson, director of the women of Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, and women across the Lake Norman community are joining together to lower those numbers by sewing dresses for at-risk girls in a project called “Little Dresses for Haiti.” Several agencies working in the island nation have told Wilson that girls in dresses are less likely to be sexually attacked because they appear to be taken care of by a help agency.
Michelle Hoverson, Grace Covenant’s outreach pastor, thought about bringing the project to Lake Norman about a year ago, after a friend told her about “Dress a Girl Around the World,” an international ministry that sews and sends dresses made from pillowcases to impoverished girls.
“I filed the pillowcase story in my mind to talk to our coordinators in Haiti as to whether the dresses would be a good project there,” Hoverson said.
When Hoverson read about the increase in rapes in Haiti, she remembered that one reason “Dress a Girl Around the World” started was to protect girls from sexual assault. She shared the concept with Wilson, and the two decided to present the ministry idea to the women of Grace Covenant.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Wilson said.
Some women have started making matching dresses, one for their daughter or granddaughter, and one for a girl in Haiti, Hoverson said.
“The dress becomes a point of prayer – as the Lake Norman girl wears her dress, hopefully she will pray for the safety and life of the little girl in Haiti wearing her matching dress,” she said. “We have a multi-generational ministry happening through a simple little dress made from a pillowcase.”
Along with Grace Covenant, members from several other area churches are now participating in the project. Employees from the Huntersville department store Kohls are joining in to help make dresses through the company’s Associates in Action program.
“As women have spoken to women, the project has mushroomed,” Hoverson said.
Wilson posted the need for dresses and materials on her Facebook page, and women from as far away as California are now participating in the project.
And local volunteers for “Little Dresses for Haiti” continue to step forward. Recently a man came to Grace Covenant one day with a bag of 80 pillowcases. He claimed had no idea of the project, but he felt compelled to bring the pillowcases to the church, Wilson said.
“To me, that’s God,” she said. “Why would somebody bring pillowcases to church? It’s definitely a God thing the way it’s gotten so big.”
Hoverson sees “Little Dresses for Haiti” as a way for individuals to get involved with an international missions project without leaving the United States.
“The dresses provide an opportunity for every woman to reach the mission field because if they can’t sew a dress, they can donate a pillowcase or ribbon or pray over a dress before we pack it,” she said.
Mooresville resident Tifaine Hash, a stay-at-home mom and owner of DoodleBugs Bowtique, is excited about making dresses because she recently felt God leading her to get involved with mission work.
“I will be making as many pillowcase dresses as I can,” Hash said. “It makes my heart smile to know that the gifts that God has given to me are going to be used for such a wonderful outreach.”
“Little Dresses for Haiti” will continue until this summer, when teams from Grace Covenant will deliver the dresses. Wilson’s goal is to collect 1,000 dresses. The church is also collecting girls’ and boys’ underwear to distribute to Haitian children.
“If this is all it takes to protect a child – a little girl from having her life permanently altered – from being violated, how can we not respond? How can we not?” said Wilson. “It just rips at my heart.”