Words by Uyen Thy Nguyen
Despite his high school days being behind him, Jared Talavera is wearing a school dress. His head turning fashion statement is all in aid of raising money for the One Girl Do It In A Dress campaign, with the hopes of sending as many young girls in Sierra Leone to school as possible.
One Girl is a Melbourne based Non-Government Organisation that works in collaboration with schools and businesses in West Africa to break the cycle of poverty through education. Their work centres on four main projects that change the lives of thousands in one of the most impoverished countries in the world. From building safer schools, empowering locals with business education, scholarships or simply providing affordable sanitary pads for women, these projects have enacted massive changes in the lives and outlooks of girls in Sierra Leone.
The need for effective female education in Sierra Leone is astounding: a girl born in Sierra Leone is more likely to be sexually assaulted than she is to attend high school. This is an unfortunate fact of life, and the people of One Girl are doing everything they can to reverse this shocking statistic.
Every October, participants in One Girl’s Do It In A Dress campaign raise money by completing tasks in school dresses throughout the month. A One Girl Ambassador in 2014, Mr Talavera of Kings Park is wearing a school dress to fund the education of as many girls as possible.
“If I can have an impact on one person’s life, that would be a profound impact on their world,” says Mr Talavera.
In addition to wearing a dress, Mr Talavera has collaborated with upcoming designers Constance-Faith Dela Cruz, Linda Pham and William Thi to create a ready-to-wear capsule collection of redesigned school dresses available for the public to buy online. The proceeds from all sales go to Jared Talavera’s fundraising campaign for Do It In A Dress. From everyday pieces to avant-garde formal wear, the unique pieces are a way for supporters of local designers and girls’ education to get their hands on one-of-a-kind designs whilst funding the empowerment of some of the most vulnerable girls in the world.
The online format of the fashion show and store means that there is potential for a global audience to view the showcased designers’ work and the message of One Girl.
“The designers and I wanted to take fundraising and awareness raising in a new direction,” explains Mr Talavera. “The [online] approach enabled us to gain support from a wider audience beyond our friends and family.”
So how has the public responded to this new frontier in fashion and fundraising?
“The response from the public has been one of great excitement and joy. People are amazed by the quality of the school-dress inspired collections,” says Mr Talavera. “Words cannot explain how grateful I am for all the people that have been a part of or supported the Do It In A Dress Fashion Show.”
Brutal Truths in Sierra Leone
- Sierra Leone has one of the world’s lowest rates of female access to education and gender equality
- A girl born in Sierra Leone is more likely to be sexually assaulted than to attend high school
- 1 in 6 girls are able to attend high school
- 28% of girls will be married before they are 15 years old
- More than 70% of people in Sierra Leone earn less than $2 a day. The average cost of a year of schooling is approximately $300, almost half a yearly income
- Every year a girl stays in high school, her income increases by 10%