How did you become interested building doll baskets for refugee children?

I have been in the doll business for many years so I have developed a great appreciation for dolls and what they do for young girls and also the lasting effect that “doll play” has on adults that loved a doll when they were a child.  Over the years, I have heard stories from so many people about  how their childhood doll was so important in their lives in so many ways.
Through that process, I have come to see that dolls do more for young children than just “another” toy to play with.  They serve a purpose…a function to developing many nurturing skills that are used in their adulthood.
So, as I have seen this purpose develop, I decided to help children that may need a doll in their life to love, nurture, talk to….but also a doll to get comfort from.  I began to donate doll clothes to another charity that gives dolls and doll clothes to terminally sick children and also to children in the foster care system in their area.  That was very rewarding….but my heart felt there was a need for dolls somewhere else….but I didn’t really know what my heart was telling me.  One day I saw a news story on our refugee crisis and how the refugee families come to the U.S. with very few belongings and that they have a need for almost everything to re-set up their new lives in the U.S.  And I figured that a doll is probably one of the last things these refugee families could afford.
Then I KNEW what I needed to do.
As I began this project to donate dolls to refugee girls, I began to realize that I wanted to give the girls a doll that looked and dressed similar to what they looked like and dressed like.  And also a doll that would comfort them as they were adjusting to their new lives in the U.S.  I felt that a doll that resembled their lives that they had to leave behind may help in that transition.  So, that became my mission…and that was to find these culturally sensitive dolls.
So, I am always keeping my eye out for these dolls online and posting links on our Facebook group page to where these dolls can be purchased and then the members of our group purchase these brand new 18” ethnic dolls (as our U.S stores label them) from where ever we can find them. We re-dress them in OUR designed and sewn culturally sensitive clothing, and include a few different culturally sensitive outfits, plus pajamas, quilt & blanket, patriotic red, white ‘n’ blue outfits, shoes, socks, and a “Welcome” card designed and drawn by children around our country. This all comes in a hand sewn tote bag that carries the doll and all of doll accessories.

How big is the group that you are a part of?

I started “Don’t Cry…I’m Here” from the ground up and we have grown to around 450 members.  It is growing much faster than I had thought it would.  We have a wonderful group of members that are working very hard to help us reach as many little refugee girls as we can.  All of their time and effort is volunteer and they purchase all of the dolls, and fabrics, yarns and trims etc. for the doll clothes with their own money. They are very generous with their time and money and have HUGE hearts for our new refugee families.  They come from all over the United States and we have 1 member from the UK and 1 from Canada.

How did you find out about the Center for Victims of Torture?

I had heard about The Center for Victims of Torture a few years ago on the news or in the newspaper…. I think it was.  Later I also heard about CVT when I had attended a presentation at the University of Minnesota on the Rwanda genocide and refugee crisis. All of this remained in the back of my mind for some reason.  As I was talking to a person close to me who was totally on board with this project that I was about to embark on…..she said, “Have you thought about donating to The Center for Victims of Torture?”  So, I would say that the memory of that news story and the Rwanda presentation in the back of my mind was pulled out….and I reached out to CVT to see if they would like us to donate some of our Doll Gift Tote Bags to some of their little refugee girls.  And so here we are…..developing a wonderful working relationship with them.

How do you go about figuring out culturally-specific outfits for the dolls?

When I get a request for a doll or dolls, I inquire about the nationality/ethnicity of the refugee girls that the dolls will be going to.  I find out if they have traditional clothes from their culture.  Most of them do based on their ethnic or religious culture.  So I research what those traditional clothes look like.  I share photos in our Facebook group of a few examples of “human-people” traditional clothing from the culture and then I and other members of our group design the traditional clothing from their culture to fit our dolls.  We try to come as close as we can with the detail on our traditional doll outfits.
We now do culturally sensitive outfits for Muslim African dolls, Muslim Middle Eastern dolls and Karen dolls. The doll clothing we put into our Doll Gift Tote Bags are in full respect of the values of these cultures.

In your opinion, why are these culturally-specific dolls important to refugee children?

It is well documented that children often learn many of the skills that they will develop when they become adults from their parents.  Many of the refugee children have lived all or most of their lives in refugee camps or in dangerous war conditions. And many of our refugee children have lost one or both parents and live with relatives or even sometimes people that they don’t know.  So, they are not able to see a traditional example of what a parent would look like because most of their lives were lived in traumatic and dangerous settings.  Often times they live lives of survival….and nurturing isn’t witnessed or learned.  They just survive.
So….let’s take it one step further and take these children out of the only geographic and cultural setting that they know and put them into another country across the world where the culture is very different from what they knew.  That is a HUGE change for a child, especially an insecure little child that just went through terrible, terrible times…even if they ARE still lucky enough to be living with their birth parents.  I feel that when these families reach the safety of the United States or any other safe country, these culturally sensitive dolls can be used to bridge that gap of culture change.  By seeing a doll that has their skin color, hair color, eye color and clothing that was prevalent in their home country, they can adapt gradually from that culture that they knew to the culture they are now living in.  They can make that transition with a doll that they can identify with because it DOES look and dress like them.  They can dress, love and play with their doll in the ways of their former country…and that doll that looks like them makes the trip through that transition time with them.  The doll is their baby…and it cries, laughs and adjusts along with them as they become comfortable in their new country.
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