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Raising funds for Rwandan relief

Fashion show Sunday will benefit a high school in Africa
by: Vern Uyetake, Danielle Meyer, left, and Ali Super hang up a poster for their upcoming fashion show titled Blended Colors, which benefits a Rwandan high school. Meyer wears a gold Mac and Jac fur coat and vintage long-sleeved top from Fleur De Lis, a West Linn boutique participating in the event. Super’s fur vest is from the brand By Deep.

Like a streak of lightning, a spotlight strikes the stage. Cue the music. Teen models prance down a runway in the hottest spring fashions.

The seated audience watches, entertained by the latest fashion trends. While the chic viewing opportunity is a fun weekend activity, audience members are also excited about the donation they made to benefit students across the world in Rwanda.

This is the vision that Danielle Meyer and Ali Super - two juniors at West Linn High School - had when they allotted after school time between jobs, sports and homework to organize Blended Colors, a fashion show fundraiser for the Itafari Foundation, which is based in Lake Oswego.

Taking place Sunday, Dec. 3, from noon until 2 p.m. at the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn, the fashion show will raise funds for a high school in Kigali, Rwanda.

Guests will enjoy lunch, a silent auction and sneak peek at spring 2007 fashions from local designers and boutiques.

'By doing a fashion show, we have the opportunity to mix fun with a good purpose,' said Super. 'This was a great way to do something good for another county using what we like - clothes.'

The two girls said they have always been interested in fashion. So, when a guest speaker from Itafari visited their classroom to give a presentation about the foundation's work in Rwanda, the girls listened and said they wanted to help. The sold-out fashion show, with nearly 50 volunteers - local male and female students to model, boutiques, clothing for sale and live music - was organized in one month.

'We just got really excited about it and had to do it as soon as possible,' Meyer said.

The name Blended Colors is ambiguous, and Meyer said that's the point. To some, it may mean a blend of people or nations, to others, perhaps a reference to color, race, age or faith.

'There is so much ignorance and poverty (in Rwanda) that we thought it would be really important to help build a school,' Meyer said.

Funds from the show will contribute to the building of a new high school in Kigali, Rwanda, organized by Itafari. The school - Kigali Parent Secondary School - will be open to children of all economic levels.

When children complete sixth grade at the Kigali Parent Primary School they will transfer to this new secondary school. These Rwandan children currently have the highest test scores in Rwanda, said Vicky Trabosh, president of the Itafari board.

'They are highly motivated,' Trabosh said. 'And these kids are motivating their parents to become educated also.'

Based in Lake Oswego, Itafari Foundation - pronounced 'eetafari' - literally means 'brick' in Kinyarwanda, the chief spoken language in Rwanda. Trabosh said this is because the foundation strives to rebuild Rwanda one brick at a time by encouraging Rwandans to be self-sustaining.

'Our goal is really to empower all Rwandans to be equal citizens of the world,' said Trabosh, also the co-founder of Itafari and a Lake Oswego resident. 'The number one issue in Rwanda is poverty reduction and this happens quickest through education - educating them about what's possible and being able to work.'

In addition to the donation of materials for the new high school, Itafari also contributes to a number of programs run by local Rwandans.

Micro-loans given in an amount less than $100 are awarded to Rwandan citizens based on their character. The funds are used to start their own businesses - such as making baskets or purchasing goats - and are paid back with interest. With each loan they repay, the Rwandan can then get a larger loan, Trabosh said.

Donors in America can buy goats for women in Rwanda or sponsor a child to help pay for supplies, clothing, schooling and health insurance - which also covers seven members of the immediate family.

At the fashion show, more information will be provided about Itafari as well as ways to donate to the foundation while shopping for school clothes.

'We're going to feature some of our higher-end designers (at the fashion show) - Jonny Was, Silver Jeans, Weston Wear. We'll have those on the models and we'll also have them for sale,' said Coreen Gamble, owner of Fleur De Lis in West Linn.

Fleur De Lis will donate 20 percent of profits made from clothing sales at the event to Itafari. Other local boutiques will also have clothing available for purchase.

Featured clothing items at the show are from City Girl, Ebee, Fleur De Lis, Glass Butterfly, Grapevine, Lucy, Meringue, Solstice and Spoiled Rotten. KINK FM 102 morning personality Rebecca Web and musician Brad Mackeson will also contribute to the show.

'We hope to get the word out about Africa and show everyone that no matter what your background, faith, religion and even what age you are, you can help make a difference in your own and someone else's life,' Meyer said. 'That is one of the greatest gifts you can be given, so why pass on it?'

The girls said they sought out local teenagers to participate in the show that demonstrated an appreciation for the cause. Super said that while fashion shows are entertaining, the event is providing an avenue for local high school students to support another high school, far away.

'When we give we actually receive,' Super said. 'Our culture is so 'me' oriented, it is important to think about how good we have it and by helping others it doesn't keep our focus on us.'

Super already sponsors a child in a foreign country and Meyer's fascination with Rwanda led her to adopt a little girl there. Through monthly payments, Meyer will allow a child in Rwanda to attend school, have a uniform, get medical insurance and school supplies, clothing and bedding. She said she hopes to visit Rwanda next summer and meet this little girl.

'I know Ali and myself feel blessed that we have been given the opportunity and drive to start helping. You can't even describe how great of a feeling it is to know that you are making a difference in someone's life,' said Meyer.

'We want to raise awareness of what goes on in other countries - not just in Rwanda. … If we can get everyone involved we can try to make the world a better place.'

Blended Colors is sold out. Visit the Itafari Web site at www.itafari.com for more information about the show as well as ways to contribute to the foundation.