Updated: Nov 25, 2019
By Ishani Chettri (‘20)
Senior Sarina Zaparde with the girls in India
Picture Credits to Sarina Zaparde
In the United States of America, a student’s clothing may press the boundaries of a school’s dress code. In India, a school uniform can mean a student’s entire education.
Senior Sarina Zaparde created Dress To Learn, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps female orphans in India go to school by providing free uniforms.
“Uniforms are used to enforce a level of uniformity among students so that they don’t feel more poor or are bullied for what they’re wearing,” said Zaparde, “But what is not realized is in super rural areas, kids just don’t have enough money to go to school at all since [uniforms are] required.”
The NGO has Zaparde’s family members and local seamstresses and seamsters of the provided villages meeting, sizing, making and delivering the school-specific uniforms to the girls.
“We take pictures with every single girl that gets a uniform so there’s physical evidence on our website that these people all have it, and it fits with their school. We make sure we hand deliver it to each child,” said Zaparde.
Dress To Learn focuses on female orphans of the middle school and high school range who face parental neglect and the social norm of boys being allowed to go to school over girls. They have helped a little over 850 girls in 40 or more schools in Paras, Akola, and surrounding villages in Maharashtra, India.
The NGO started in 2016 after Zaparde first saw the problem during one of her frequent visits to her dad’s hometown of Paras, Maharashtra, India.
“I would see lots of girls walking around or working in fields when they should’ve been in school. Why aren’t they at school? Turns out, they just don’t have enough money to afford clothing to go,” said Zaparde.
Despite being in the eighth grade at the time, Zaparde decided with her dad to start an NGO that helps these girls in Paras and eventually all over India. She said joining a pre-existing NGO would bring up concerns of where the money actually goes and who is at the core of leadership. Rather than waiting or relying on people who weren’t trustful, Zaparde said she would be the one in charge and responsible for the direction of the NGO.
“Right now, I’m trying to focus on getting other high schools, clubs and other organizations to fundraise for us because I can only do so much now. But I want to keep it going,” said Zaparde.
High schools, clubs, and anyone interested in donating any amount of money can do so by contacting Zaparde’s team at dresstolearn.org. The donations go towards paying the local seamsters and seamstresses who make the uniforms as well as the cost of the materials for the uniforms themselves.
“I think a lot of kids need to have empathy for other people living around the world. Even though I started this in the eighth grade I, as an individual, am capable of making a lot of change. So people should have the need and be able to help others around the world too,” said Zaparde.