A former seamstress and grandmother of three, Barbara is the founder of Rags To Riches, a local initiative that creates clothing and fabric items for vulnerable children and families in the developing world.
What prompted you to start Rags To Riches?
Being retired, I needed something to do, and I heard about a 99-year-old lady in the US who was making clothes and sending them to orphanages in Africa. It was a light bulb moment. Armed with Dhs200, I went to Satwa and bought as much fabric as I could carry and, two weeks later, my first batch of dresses was on a plane going to Ethiopia.
How quickly did it take off and what was the big turning point?
It took off straight away and unwanted fabric was pouring in quickly from all over Dubai. I was up and running and I knew this was what I wanted to do. And then Emirates gave me a huge donation of in-flight blankets after, I think, they heard about me from Facebook. I was making warm hoodie jackets from the airline’s children’s blankets and they gave me thousands of them.
How many ladies do you have working on donations now?
We now have 30 to 35 sewing bees active at any time across the UAE, all of them with amazing groups of ladies.
What products are you creating and how do you come up with them?
Essentially, we make anything that can be made from fabric – dresses, shirts, shorts, hoodies, tank tops, tracksuit bottoms, tote bags and pencil cases for school kids, plus fully washable baby nappies and sanitary kits. Those came about as a result of a story I heard on a radio show I was listening to one morning. I learnt that there were places where young girls were not able to go to school when they were menstruating as they hadn’t got any sanitary wares they could use. This is a huge problem all over the world. Since then, we’ve sent more than 300 kits to needy young girls. Our kits are fully washable and reuseable, and the feedback I have had is very heartwarming. The girls love them.
And you’ve taken R2R on the road too?
A group of ladies, my husband and I travelled to Gaziantep on the Turkish and Syrian border to stay at a family refugee centre in 2016, where we taught the ladies to sew. We took fabrics and equipment, and taught them how to make products they could sell to support themselves. Next, I have a trip planned to Kathmandu, which I’m very excited about.
What do your family think of what you have achieved?
They support me in everything I do and keep telling me how proud they are of what I have achieved.
Do you have any idea how many people your campaign has reached now? Can you comprehend the enormity of what you have created?
In the four years we have been running, a total of 11,488 newly-made garments have gone out to people in 23 different countries, with 2017 our best year yet – we created 6,483 pieces last year alone. I’m happy with that. We now have 4,500 followers on our Facebook page, we are growing in an amazing way and I hope one day we’ll see circles popping up all over the world. I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams Rags To Riches would be where it is now, but what I do know is that I love every single minute of it.