Frayed Clothes and the Blue Sweater

When I arrived in Ethiopia, it was impossible not to notice the frayed clothing worn by most rural Ethiopians. As an avid reader on global issues and extreme poverty, I couldn’t seem to get the fabulous non-fiction book “The Blue Sweater” by Jacqueline Novogratz out of my head. One of the unforgettable moments in Jacqueline’s life was when she was living in Rwanda and saw a young boy wearing her blue sweater that she had donated eleven years ago to a local American charity. Somehow that sweater with her initials still written clearly inside, made it all the way to Africa and was still being worn despite being tattered and frayed. It made Norogratz, a successful investment banker, think about how our world is interconnected, and it steered her life towards philanthropy.

Driving throughout the rural countryside of Ethiopia where over 90% of Ethiopia’s 90 million people live, frayed clothing is an omnipresent reminder of the high level of poverty in this part of the world. I saw toddlers wearing no bottoms, little boys wearing pink jackets, girls and women in a pell-mell of skirts, tops and dresses, and men wearing worn-out, patched up trousers. Shoes were rarely present especially on children. If shoes were worn, they were either too big, too small or torn.

I thought about my own children, comfortably back at home in Minnesota with more clothing in their closets and drawers than they could possibly wear to the point of wearing them out. The fact that twice a year I make the annual trip to Goodwill or Salvation Army where I unload all the unnecessary clothing that is supposed to go to the local community but like Norogratz’ blue sweater, most likely ends up somewhere in Africa.

Was some little girl out there wearing my daughter’s favorite dress? I am certain she is.

Rural Ethiopian Girl

Rural Ethiopian Boy

Rural Ethiopian Girl

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Boy

Rural Ethiopian Boy

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

Rural Ethiopian Children

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray. To view more entries click here. 

I was in Ethiopia in June as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project. To see all my stories from the trip, click here




    • Thanks Kat! How are you? You must be busy as you haven’t had many posts over the summer. Hope all is well! Kids start school tomorrow! Looking forward to fall!

      • Oldest all moved in to the dorms down your way this week — busy times …. all good though! Hoping to find more time for blogging this fall as we settle back into the school year routine. Good to hear from you!

  1. Whenever we go visit South Africa I take the clothing that I have kept over the years so that I can give it to the church, who then distributes them to those children in need. The old clothes are never turned away as fashion is not a concern when you don’t have money to buy clothing.

    • Thanks Debra! 🙂 Yep time for me to go through our clothing now too. My kids grow so fast but I think most of their cloths stay here as we still have a fair amount of children who could use them and are in need. Hope you are well. 🙂

    • Thanks Debbie! 🙂 I always take these kinds of angles but am glad people like you understand where I’m coming from! Sometimes I must get tiresome though. 🙂

  2. What a lovely response to the challenge. I remember seeing a child in Zambia wearing a spider-man top and wondering if it was the one I had donated. I have heard that in some places our donated clothes are actually SOLD to the people, which is definitely not right.

    • Thank you! Wow, that is pretty cool about the spiderman shirt. I have heard that as well (that some clothing donated is sold). That is definitely not right. I am a huge fan of recycling things and clothing is such a great thing. I would love to go to Zambia someday. Do you have any posts on your trip there?

  3. This is a powerful and very appropriate post for the theme Nicole. As always, it’s reinforced with a set of amazing photos that accurately complementing the message. I quickly recognized that 5th photo, from a previous post, and had the same feeling again!

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  5. Sisters From Another Mister

    Your eye for the raw beauty comes thro in each and every shot … the little girl all dressed in green brought me to tears as I pictured Tasmin, my little fashionista putting together matching ensembles. What a beautiful post, and I loved that book xxxx

    • Oh Nicole…thank you so much!!!! I am so glad the post brought you feelings. That book was amazing, wasn’t it? I hope you are doing well. You are a special person! 🙂 Hug those girls tight!

  6. A really moving post, Nicole, and your pictures tell such a story. It’s so gratifying to know that our discarded clothing is able to help those in need. The Salvation Army do such a great job.

    • Thanks Sylvia! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. When I saw the challenge, the images of the children popped into my head and I had to go with it.

  7. Your beautiful pictures and posts brought back memories of my trips home and elsewhere on the continent; it’s quite common for children to wear clothes shipped from far away countries. Often the clothes are sold in the marketplace for pennies… When feasible, some care agencies provide the clothes for free. They are appreciated and valued by the families and kids. Some kids go naked when such aid is unavailable.. Welcome home my friend! 🙂

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  10. When I think of all the clothing we get rid of because they are either not in style, had a small hole that went unrepaired or we simply don’t wear it anymore, it’s shameful that we don’t have a way of giving them to those who need them most. I do recycle them by giving them to local charities. Thank you for posting this. The message is an important one.

  11. Thoughtful and beautiful Nicole. When we moved to Sudan we purposely took lots of kids clothes to donate – particularly T-shirts and dresses. We wrote our initials on the tags, and over the years when we spotted something familiar, we’d talk to the kids and take a polaroid to commemorate the occasion. 🙂 ~Terri

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  13. The Blue Sweater is one of my favorite books about the developing world. The colorful combination of clothes that I see when I travel always brings to mind the fashion magazines pics about what to combine for the most current trend. I like the mismatched look better!

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