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A Simple Dress That Transformed a Life

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A young woman in a crisp white blouse and orange skirt handed me a gift wrapped in butcher paper and tied with string. Attached was this note:

Dear Renee,

We the Child mothers learning Tailoring in the centre

Are pleased to have you in our centre.

We give you an African dress we have made as a gift in

Remembrance.

May God bless you.

Seven years later, I still carry that note with me as a reminder not only of an extraordinary group of young women I met at the Children of War Center in Gulu, Uganda, but also of the power of generosity to bring about change in a hurting world.

Inside the package was a beautiful batik dress, handmade for me by these survivors of a bloody civil war waged against the people of Northern Uganda by rebel warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army. These young women (girls, really) had been abducted and taken from their homes, their schools and their families to serve as slaves for rebel army commanders. Sexually assaulted, each had given birth to her captor's child. And yet, standing as testimony to their courage and determination was the fact that they had all escaped and had found their way to this safe haven run by World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization. Here, the staff showered them with love as they received spiritual and emotional counseling, medical care and vocational training. My new dress was the by-product of one of their lessons.

Encircled by this group of seamstresses-in-training, I slipped the dress over my head. They smiled, proud of their work and heartened, no doubt, by the healing in their lives that this dress represented. In a short time, these young women had gone from slavery to freedom, from degradation to the pride of accomplishment. No longer captives, they were now members of a family, albeit a wounded one, struggling together to regain their dignity and hope for the future. It was here, in this place of restoration, that they had found others who had experienced the same horrors they had faced. But they also found a small, committed staff of doctors, social workers and community members whose love had empowered these girls to move forward with expectation toward a life they had not, until recently, dreamed possible. Although I put on the beautiful dress, it was they who had been transformed. And to think that this transformation had come about at least in part because of the generosity of people who had heard about the plight of Uganda's children and wanted to help.

As I returned home from visiting these young women, I was determined never to forget their beautiful faces, their tragic stories. And yet, as I stand in line for the door-buster special at my local big box store on Black Friday, it's easy for me to be carried away by the excitement of the season, to let my holiday gift list get in the way of remembering these extraordinary girls. That's why I still carry with me the note that accompanied that batik dress given to me so many years ago. It reminds me not only of the girls at the Center but also of the countless other men and women, boys and girls somewhere in the world today who need our help, whose lives are waiting to be transformed by our generosity.

In the face of the world's overwhelming problems, I am often tempted to believe that I have little to offer, that my small contributions won't make a difference in the lives of those in need. But when I feel that way, I pull out the note, and remember those girls whose lives were changed because someone cared enough to give. You see, when the generosity of ordinary people like you and me meets the hard work and determination of those who receive our gifts of love, financial support, and prayer, powerful things begin to happen. Lives are changed, transformed, none more so than ours.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2013) on December 3. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. We'll be featuring posts from InterAction partners all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here. For more information about InterAction, visit here. To see what World Vision is doing for #GivingTuesday, click here.

And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.