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Making a big difference with smalls

326. Maria Macnamara

A Livingston woman who founded a charity that has collected over 100,000 items of underwear and distributed them to vulnerable women and children in Africa.

Maria Macnamara, 45, founded ‘Smalls for All’ after taking part in volunteer trips to orphanages in Brazil, Thailand and Ethiopia. They provide underwear to orphanages, slums, Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, schools and hospitals. They also fund the education of 31 children in Kenya and Uganda.

As well as providing underwear they also provide charitable aid to orphanages, Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps and medical centres, and help to fund the education of 31 children in Kenya.

After participating in several volunteer trips to an orphanage in Ethiopia, Maria was inspired to make a longer-lasting difference across a wider part of Africa. She read about a priest in Zimbabwe that wrote about how a lack of underwear for communities can cause serious problems. Not only is it a health and hygiene issue, but the Smalls for All website explains that: “Women who can afford underwear tend to be seen as having someone who cares for them – a husband, brother or father. They are not on their own so they are not seen as vulnerable.” A lack of underwear can also im impact their access to education. Girls who are lucky enough to have a place in school miss 3 or 4 days a month due their lack of underwear because they aren’t able to manage their periods.

Underwear can seem like a small ask but Maria saw how it could make a big difference. Smalls for All collects donations of new underwear and bras, and then distributes them to several African countries through local charities.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Maria has identified a direct way to make a huge difference in the lives of women in developing countries.  In just five years she has set up Smalls for All and gathered over 100,000 items of underwear to send to women across Africa. It may seem like a small action, but Maria’s work will have had an immediate impact on the daily lives of thousands of women and I am delighted to recognise her service with this Points of Light award.”

Maria said:

“I am absolutely delighted that the work that Smalls and our supporters has been doing has been recognised in this way. I started this charity because I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t want a party or a fuss for my 40th birthday so instead I used the money to take a volunteering trip to Ethiopia. In the UK we take small things like underwear for granted but in Ethiopia I saw what a huge impact it can have. In the first few months of setting up Smalls for All, I collected over 10,000 pairs of pants and those receiving them were absolutely overwhelmed. All of a sudden, they can live normal lives again and go to school, go to church, be part of their community. The trip I took on my birthday really changed my life, and I like to think  it’s changed a few lives over there as well.”

Hannah Bardell, Member of Parliament for Livingston said:

“I am delighted to hear that Maria has been named a ‘Point of light’ by the Prime Minster for her incredible work developing the “Smalls for All” campaign and helping ensure so many children across Africa receive clean underwear and aid. Maria’s work in orphanages serves as an inspiration and her own kindness and compassion is hugely inspiring. We are extremely lucky to have such a shining light in West Lothian and I wish her every success for the future.”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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