Thla Sui, a freshman in apparel, merchandising, and design, makes a pair of shorts that will be donated to a boy in South Africa. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Service learning expands to making shorts for South African boys

Iowa State University students in an introductory apparel construction class are using their newly learned skills to make shorts for boys in South Africa.

Students in AMD 121, an apparel assembly process lab class, are making about 100 pairs of brightly colored, cotton shorts with adjustable, drawstring waists. The shorts will be taken to South Africa and donated to little boys in May by lecturer Christina Denekas and students as part of the AESHM South Africa Study Abroad Program.

“Thinking of the kids who will be wearing these shorts made it worth it,” said Lauren Faulkenberry, a freshman in apparel, merchandising, and design. “From one world to another, I hope these make somebody a little happy.”

For most of the students, it’s the first garment they’ve ever made.

“I’ve really enjoyed using the skills I’ve acquired over the last couple weeks to help others,” said Connor Moorman, a junior in industrial design. “I didn’t expect to be doing anything like this already but I would love to do it more.”

Dresses for girls, shorts for boys

Sharon Wirth, who teaches one of three sections of the class along with Denekas and lecturer Amanda Quinn, first brought service learning to the class seven years ago.

“It’s so wonderful for our students to be getting that experience of thinking about somebody else and realizing that they have skills that can make a difference,” Wirth said."

Iowa State students in past years made dresses delivered to orphans through Little Dresses for Africa, a nonprofit that’s since 2008 worked to provide relief and hope to vulnerable children throughout Africa and beyond.

“The Little Dresses for Africa program started because there was such a pandemic of AIDS and there are so many children in the orphanages,” Wirth explained. “Girls are culturally expected to take care of everybody else and they were often wearing rags. For them to get a brand-new piece of clothing was really amazing to them and just lifted their spirits and made them feel worthy.”

A project called “Britches for Boys” first extended the service project to include new shorts for boys in Africa.

The shorts made by Iowa State students come in two sizes. Those made this semester are intended for boys between the ages of 2 and 6, while those made last semester are for slightly older boys, up to about age 10. A label sewn inside each pair of shorts states: “Sewn by students at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA”

“I love the idea of applying skills we are learning for service,” said Rose Echard, a freshman in apparel, merchandising, and design. “At my high school, I organized a similar project for making blankets and I was very passionate about it.”

Traveling to South Africa

Iowa State students enrolled in the introductory apparel class last academic year made about 100 dresses that will be taken to Africa this May, along with the shorts.

The class works in tandem with the AESHM South Africa Study Abroad Program which has allowed some Iowa State students to travel about 9,000 miles to South Africa, hand-deliver the clothing they’ve sewn, and see the expression on children’s faces.service-learning-shorts-for-Africa-content

Denekas led the group during the program’s first trip in 2015, and will again lead the group this year. They work with Blessman International and visit orphanages as part of their trip.

“There’s this expectation in preparing to go that the process will help and change others, yet before one realizes it, it's yourself who's been changed,” Denekas said. “It's beautiful. It's moving.”

The two-week trip takes students to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Mokopane, and Pretoria for an experience that incorporates service learning with learning about culture, history, and the South African fashion, retail, and hospitality industries.

Iowa State students learn from those in South Africa, but they also teach. The trip includes training local women on sewing equipment and teaching them about pattern making, the order of operation in assembly-line processes, and marketing.

Students planning to go on the trip are enrolled this spring in AESHM 281, the one-credit, pre-departure orientation course. They’ll enroll this summer in AESHM 381N, the two-credit South Africa travel course.