Ramadan is a time that inspires more charitable acts than any other month and there is plenty
going around in the UAE to partake in.
Rags to Riches is one such initiative
focused on weaving strings of unwanted,
or recyclable, fabrics to keep children
warm and safe at night, and will surely
inspire you to continue the good for a
We chatted with 70-year-old Barbara
Evans who's been at the helm for the past
four years in Dubai, changing the lives of
children around the world one blanket at a
time with her volunteers.
WHAT LED TO RAGS TO RICHES BEING
I was a very bored housewife, wondering
what I can do besides shopping all day
long. That’s when I came across an
article about a 99-year-old Lillian Weber
who was making a dress a day every
day to send them off to orphanages in
countries around Africa. I couldn’t stop
thinking about her at all and I said to
myself, ‘This is something I can do.’
So with only Dh200 in my purse, I set
off to Satwa for its fabric stores. From
there I came out with seventy dresses, but I didn’t know how to get all of them
to children across the world. Then I
arranged for the clothes to be shipped
out to Ethiopia and that’s how it all
HOW DID THIS VENTURE EXPAND?
I was working from home until my son
suggested expanding the project and
looking for other people to help out.
At first I was reluctant because I didn’t
want to lose control over it, thankfully
I didn’t at all. In fact, I received 169
volunteers – from sewers and knitters
to packers and couriers. And in the four and a half years together we’ve sent out
13,000 new garments. Before that, the
children have never had anything new
to wear but second-hand clothes. This
is why our intention is to use unwanted
fabrics, instead of it going to landfills,
and make new clothes out of them.
WHAT DOES THE LATEST KNIT-A-THON PROJECT ENTAIL?
One of my drop-off points volunteers was
in South Africa when they broke the world
record for the biggest knitted blanket,
so she brought the idea back here and
wondered if we could do it on a smaller
scale, but I wasn’t happy with that and
decided we’re going for the record. The
UAE loves its records, so I thought let’s
bring the record here. I put a shout
out for whoever was interested and it
just exploded – everyone wanted to be
We started on 1 April this year but we’re
going to be working on this for a while,
as it’s supposed to cover two football
pitches. Once we’re done with the huge
blanket and hit the record, it will be taken
down and divided into 100cm sq smaller
ones which will then be given to needy
children and old people around the world.
There are children living high up in the
Himalayas in Nepal, so high that even
their summer is cold, and I know a man
on the ground who is quite happy to take
the blankets up to them despite his only
way of transportation being a six-donkey
convoy. People will go to incredible
measures to help these kids out.
WHAT OTHER INITIATIVES ARE YOU
I was listening to a radio show six months
ago about young ladies who have got
absolutely nothing and can’t afford to buy
anything to use when on their menstrual
period times. It stops them from going to
schools and pursuing their education.
I thought this can’t be right, we must be
able to do something for these girls and
thus we came up with ‘Angel Wings’ -
which are fully washable, reusable cloths
and we sent out over a thousand kits so
far. Our feedback has been nothing short
of incredible, and we receive messages
saying ‘Thank you; I can live my life
again.’ What’s life-changing for these
children, we take for granted.
WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU KNITTED?
We have ladies making dresses, shorts,
blouses, shirts, headbands, jewellery, soft
toys, and even tote bags. As plastic bags
have become a global problem, especially
in India at the moment where people have
nothing to carry their school books and
groceries in, so we make tote bags out of
curtains and really whatever old fabrics
come through we make the most out of.
CAN PEOPLE DONATE THEIR OLD
CLOTHES FOR YOU TO REPURPOSE?
We don’t accept second-hand clothes. We
could undo and redo them to look new but
in that time I could’ve made five new items
out of the fabrics. We can however accept
second-hand bedding, leftover linen and
fabrics from shops – especially tailors who
have so much wastage at their shops.
DO YOU OFFER ANY BEGINNER
WORKSHOPS FOR NON-KNITTERS WHO
WOULD LIKE TO VOLUNTEER?
We are spreading our team into two
different areas of Dubai, and we have set
a coordinator to organise a Knit-A-Thon
meet-up between the two teams so people
who don’t know how to knit can go along
there and we’ll show them how. We also
encourage them to knit during their free
time like while watching television in the
evening for instance. Otherwise there are
plenty of tutorials on YouTube; my daughter
learnt that way as well as about 50 other ladies too.
HOW DO YOU COORDINATE WITH
THE COMMUNITIES YOU’RE
SENDING THE ITEMS TO?
It’s actually a lot of the ladies travelling
back to their home countries from
Dubai for the holidays, and we also
work with charities.
IS IT ONLY WOMEN WHO
VOLUNTEER OR CAN MEN
Of course they can, we’ve got men
packaging and couriering the items for
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE
FUTURE OF THIS INITIATIVE TO BE
My dream is to have a Rags to Riches
in every country. We’ve already started
with a pod in the UK, the US, and a
recent one in Australia – so it’s growing.
WHAT PLACES HAVE YOU SENT THE
ITEMS TO SO FAR?
We’ve done 24 countries so far: South
Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, lots of Syrian
and Kurdish refugee camps, Thailand,
Indonesia, and New Guinea – just to
name a few popular ones.
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING PLANNED
Like every year since the beginning,
we help an orphanage in South Africa
by providing the children with their Eid