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Photo courtesy of Erinne Paisley
At first, Erinne Paisley, an 18-year-old from Victoria, British Columbia, simply wanted to create a high school graduation dress from recycled materials.
“Someone I know made a grad dress out of newspaper a few years ago, and then her other friend did a different dress out of neckties, so the idea of recycled dresses had kind of always been in the back of my mind,” she says.
But soon, that initial idea took a much more meaningful turn. “As graduation got closer, the fact that 62 million girls around the world don’t have access to secondary education as I was preparing to celebrate my own secondary education was something that was really moving to me.”
So, instead of shopping for a dress like her peers, Paisley gathered up her old precalculus homework papers, along with some velvet and satin ribbon, and transformed it into a skater-esque frock. She finished the look off by writing on the skirt, “I’ve received my education. Not every woman has that right,” along with “MALALA.ORG.”
The latter, of course, is the website for the Malala Fund — the charitable initiative founded by human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who survived a brutal gun attack by the Taliban and was awarded the Nobel Prize for her work in advocating female education around the world. Though Paisley was aware of Malala’s plight before (“I’ve been interested in activism, charity, and giving back for as long as I can remember,” she tells Yahoo Style), her interest piqued after hearing Malala speak in person at last year’s We Day UK, a rally to help inspire young people to contribute to global change.
Malala Yousafzai. Photo: Getty Images
“Being in the same room as her was absolutely moving to me; something I can’t even describe,” Paisley says of the experience. “The fact that she’s the same as me or any other teenage girl that I know, there’s really no difference — it’s just the circumstances that she was born into, and the extent that she had to fight to receive her education was something that really resonates.”
After creating several drafts of her grad dress (which took several days and two sets of hands to pull off), Paisley donated the money she would have spent buying a new one — $250 — to the Malala Fund. Then, following the ceremony last Saturday, she put her paper frock up for auction online, with all proceeds going to the charity as well. So far, the bids have gotten as high as $550 — though, more than the money, Paisley is thrilled about the feedback she’s been getting.
“I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people saying they’re going to donate, or that [I’m bringing attention to] this issue that they’ve never paid much attention to before. It’s been absolutely amazing to hear,” says the teen, who plans on studying international relations at the University of Toronto next year, and eventually parlaying that into a career fighting for human rights at an organization like the United Nations.
But the most meaningful response to Paisley’s message-loaded dress, by far, has been from Malala herself. After Paisley contacted the charity directly, the foundation featured a post by the student, detailing her efforts and contribution to the Malala Fund on its blog Wednesday afternoon.
Says Paisley, excitedly: “I asked them, ‘Is there any chance Malala might see it?’ and they told me, ‘Yes, she always checks it.’” Something tells us this isn’t the last time the two teen activists will cross each other’s paths in their mission to better the world we live in.
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