One of our most inspiring volunteers is 90-year-old Jean Martin from Vancouver. Over the past ten years, Mrs. Martin has knitted more than one thousand dresses, hats and suits for handmade dolls for African children, as part of our Dolls for Africa project. Her creations are charming and beautiful with great attention to detail in colour and decorative touches that give immediate joy to the beholder.
Mrs. Martin has been our saviour in so many ways regarding this project. She has helped in the design of the dolls and solved problems for us herself when we did not have a solution. We learned from her dedication and amazing skill that we must reach out to our brother and sister Canadian seniors who might be looking to participate in a service project.
The Dolls for Africa project began in 2006 after our Oneness-Heart Tears and Smiles team travelled to Cape Town, South Africa. We visited the office of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and were introduced to a project called “Philani,” which means “Be well.” At the Philani Nutrition Centres, we observed about sixty young children from three to five years old who were being treated for severe malnourishment. The children were eager to take turns holding a single plastic white doll that was missing a limb – one of the few toys available for them. Archbishop Tutu’s office asked if we would be able to send soft African dolls for the children in the Philani project.
Archbishop Tutu, who is the patron of Philani, is very happy with the dolls that we have sent. He commented: “Dolls for Africa is a project of great compassion and caring. I endorse it enthusiastically.”
We have send hundreds of dolls to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mali, Uganda and Ghana, as well as Kenya. In most cases, they are given to children in orphanages who have lost their parents due to AIDS. We were told from recipient organizations, such as the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Philani Project, that the children could feel the love, affection and concern of those who made the dolls and that these dolls have a tremendous impact on the lives of the young children who receive them. A doll brings not only comfort and joy but is an important tool for the development of a child’s imagination and creativity and fosters feelings of love and affection.
Inspired by Mrs. Martin’s dedicated service, we realized that our senior citizens are a fabulous resource of creativity and self-giving. In one seniors day-care centre, a group of elderly participants hand-stitched decals of a baby under a mosquito net onto the dresses of the dolls. It was part of a program called “Malaria No More” to teach children to sleep under the mosquito nets at night to prevent malaria. The seniors loved the project and the dolls.
In recent years, missionaries have been calling us to request dolls to take to Africa. At the moment, we are unable to produce enough dolls to keep up with these requests. In fact, we need many more dolls for the steady stream of clothing made by Mrs. Martin! We are hoping other Canadian seniors will join us in creating dolls.
This project was supported enthusiastically by Sri Chinmoy, the founder of the Oneness-Heart Tears and Smiles. At one point he even met with a class of young doll-makers Renaissance Middle School to thank and honour them for their service.