Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 8 August 2020

Dubai residents turn scrap fabric into clothes for needy children

The Rags to Riches UAE members dedicate their free time to help fashion garments from throwaway fabrics

Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National

From interior architect to volunteer seamstress, Ceri Rocca is just one of a group of women in Dubai who has turned her love of sewing into a worthwhile cause.

Stitch by stitch, Ms Rocca, 50, has helped turn discarded bed sheets, towels and blankets into clothes for children in need.

At her home in Dubai’s Al Barsha area, Ms Rocca’s lounge has been transformed into a cosy craft room.

Hordes of donated fabric sit on shelves that cover all four walls. In the centre, the sofa and coffee table have made way for a dedicated work bench. A measuring tape, pins, thread spool and sewing machine are all she needs to fashion hoodies, shirts and dresses from scraps.

Part of the Rags to Riches UAE community group, the clothes Ms Rocca sews end up in the hands of children in countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Ghana.

Founded by fellow Dubai resident, Barbara Evans in 2014, what started as a small social group has now grown to more than 170 active members.

Women from across the Emirates dedicate their free time to help fashion garments from throwaway fabrics.

One lady contacted us recently. Her mother, who was avid into crafts, passed away so her daughter donated jars of leftover buttons, fabrics and threads

Ceri Rocca, Rags to Riches UAE

And friends, loved ones and community members help to make sure they reach children in orphanages, refugee camps and underprivileged communities around the world.

“Dubai is such a transient place so people get rid of clothes, bed sheets and blankets all the time,” Ms Rocca said.

“For a lot of us, sewing is just a hobby so joining the group was a chance to give back and transform old to new."

From 1991 to 1996, Ms Rocca lived and worked in the UAE as an interior architect for a luxury hotel brands in Dubai.

After a 10-year hiatus back home in the UK, she took an early retirement and returned to the emirate in 2016.

Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National

And as a creative who knew her way around a sewing machine, the Rags to Riches UAE move made sense.

Designing outfits for newborns and teens up to 18, it is the “community spirit” that really helps drive the group's work.

In any one sitting, Ms Rocca and her fellow seamstresses, including co-founder Fahmida Seitz, can make about 10 pieces of clothing from scratch, or “20 on a good day”.

Since 2015, the group has stitched about 17,000 dresses, shirts, shorts and hoodies that have been sent to 37 countries in all.

Ms Rocca said boys’ shirts and blankets tend to be the most simple in design. While hoodies take a little longer because of the "extra details like pockets and hoods".

“When people hear what we do, they tend to help out in any way they can,” she said.

“One lady contacted us recently. Her mother, who was avid into crafts, passed away so her daughter donated jars of leftover buttons, fabrics and threads."

Gathering on a weekly basis for “tea, biscuits and a mass sewing session”, some days can be busy, while others are steady.

“The nature of demand really depends on what people want.

“We usually receive weekly or monthly requests for clothes.

“Just recently, one lady who was going to visit Uganda gave me a really specific brief.

“Kids were complaining of being cold while walking to school, but in government schools there you are not allowed to wear clothes that cover the uniform.”

The Rags to Riches UAE team responded by making 35 ponchos within “a matter of days”.

“We came up with that design so they could wear it while walking then convert it to a blanket over the knees while in class,” Ms Rocca said.

To get an idea of what is needed for each request, the group admins send the donor a questionnaire to find out how many children need clothing and whether winter or summer attire is required.

Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ceri Rocca, who helps run Rags to Riches UAE, turns discarded bedsheets, towels and blankets into clothes for needy children around the world. Reem Mohammed / The National

“We always aim to send at least one outfit for every child so sometimes we work on tight timescales, but it is so worth the time and effort.

“When people send us pictures of the children wearing our clothes, it’s an incredible feeling.”

With the Christmas holidays approaching and many people flying away for the festivities, the group urged residents to save any complimentary blankets given out on airlines for the Rags to Riches UAE cause.

“We turn simple fleece blankets into warm hoodies for children so any donations would really help.”

Updated: December 8, 2019 12:10 PM

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