Ethiopian refugee shares her passion for dresses with Lithuanian women

Eskedar Maštavičienė was relocated to Lithuania from in 2007. Now, 10 years later, she lives in Vilnius with her husband and three children and considers the country her home. She has started a charity to help local underprivileged women.

Eskedar Maštavičienė at the Panevezys Donate a Dress day in 2016 ©Padovanok Suknelę

When Eskedar Maštavičienė was relocated to Lithuania from Malta in 2007 after fleeing her home nation of Ethiopia, she found the new country and its people cold and wintery. Now, almost 10 years later, she lives in Vilnius with her husband and three children and considers the country her home. After much hard work, she was able to start a charity to help local underprivileged women.

During the annual end of year charity events, individuals of different professions and interests are invited to come together to help the less fortunate, and in this case, they happen to be underprivileged women. Upon arriving, they can freely select the dresses they desire from the many that have been donated, all free of charge. Additionally, local make-up artists and hairdressers volunteer their time to pamper them, and trim and curl their hair. These charity events are called Padovanok suknelę, or in English, ‘Donate a Dress’, and are all organized by Eskedar and other volunteers.

“We want women to feel special, beautiful and confident.”

Eskedar is the co-founder of this kind-hearted initiative. The aim of the ‘Donate a Dress’ event is to help women who work hard and put their families before themselves, and allow them to enjoy a day where they are put first and taken care of.  “We want women to feel special, beautiful and confident.” Eskedar says. “And it all comes from a simple random act of kindness by another woman.”

Eskedar was inspired to start the initiative after talking to a woman who had come to redecorate her kitchen.  The lady mentioned that she could not remember the last time she had bought something new for herself, when all the money she earned was invested in her family. After hearing her story, Eskedar decided to give her one of her own dresses as a present. This was where ‘Donate a Dress’ was born.  “I was in a position where I could donate a dress, but I wanted to do it for more women like her who were in the same position and to make them happy and feel good,” Eskedar says. She strongly believes in giving something back to the society that helped and welcomed her all those years ago.

She started with ‘Donate a Dress’ in 2015 in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Around 200 dresses were donated by Lithuanian women, and Eskedar worked with the local municipality, social services teams, charities, and family associates to find women to invite to the event. The following year it had tripled in size, and took place in three cities across the country. 600 dresses were donated by women in Lithuania, but also by women in other countries who had heard about the initiative through social media. ‘Donate a Dress’ days are now supported by make-up artists, hairdressers, and photographers alike, who contribute with their services to the charitable event.

“It is something really beautiful to see that the initiative is growing every year and it is overwhelming. I just hope that it can continue.”

During the rest of the year, Eskedar runs her own English teaching business, and works as an interpreter with the Lithuanian Migration Department. She also volunteers as a translator and mediator for the Red Cross and Caritas Vilnius, both organisations dealing with refugee integration in Lithuania.

To help further develop her childhood dream, Eskedar earned her Master’s degree in international business this past summer.  She says it was her love of education that helped her integrate into Lithuanian society.

“People just need motivation – and for me that was my studies,” said Eskedar who has already received her second degree in Lithuania.

“In my case it was a childhood dream. Today I feel like Lithuania is home, I have friends and I love this place. I have grown and I have changed a lot, I have become another person. I’m at home here.”