Black Dolls and Dreamers

After a recent conversation with a friend about Mama Afrika’s policies concerning donations, I thought this might be a good time to talk about that subject.  I am sure that some people wonder why on earth Mama spends time, energy and money on things like glitter glue or Black baby dolls.  After all, Africa needs much more substantive things than that right?

Well, I’d like to invite you in to my thought process and then we can discuss your views if you’d like.

Number one: Imagination matters. I’m going to say something here that might be contrary to accepted wisdom; but scientists are dreamers.  We’ve always had this image in our head of nerds with pocket protectors and very little social skills.  I mean, that is the stereotype right?  Men (we rarely imagine women, let’s be honest) who are not interested in art, music or fun… just solid science.  No dreams, just numbers and theories.

How ridiculous an idea when you take the time to think about it.  After all, what does science do?  It pushes the envelope; it reaches out into the future, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world around us or at the very least, new ways of explaining it.  Science is, by its very nature, exploratory and full of dreaming.  Thus, scientists need to be dreamers.

Think back in history to those who discovered new worlds or new theories which are commonplace for us.  They were all thought of as ahead of their time, some even as crazy.

So, it is in that spirit that I send art supplies to children in Africa.  I want them to step out of the rigors of daily life and dream a little.  Creativity might be sparked in their first art project or in seeing and working with a new art medium that takes their brain to a new place… only God knows where it might end.

Am I thinking forward to a child being a scientist or artist of the highest caliber?  Not necessarily; but goodness knows it wouldn’t shock me!  Africa is full of young minds, brilliant minds which are capable of all things.  There is only a lack of opportunity and exposure which prevents them from being the next great minds of the future.

Number twoIt provides a glimpse into the world as they see it.  Just another small positive aspect of the art supplies that we’ve sent in the past is that children have been able to describe their lives, their surroundings in a different way than they are used to.  A group of kids in Ghana made these pictures for me and it was something that brought tears to my eyes.  They were so skilled at conveying their daily lives to me a world away.  None of these children have lived the hardships like some have in Africa (child soldiers, child slaves, AIDS orphans, etc.).  But, in seeing their creativity, I was brought back to a film I’d seen many years ago concerning child soldiers of the LRA in northern Uganda.  When these kids were brought out of the field, they were given simple pencil and paper as a form of therapy.  It helped them to explain what they’d lived without having to talk.  I never forgot those images.

Now to address those dolls: Why only Black dolls?

Ironically, in most parts of Africa, (a land full of black faces), it is even more difficult to find a Black baby doll.  This fact, leads me to Number Three: Color matters. Dolls teach us how to care for others.  As little girls or boys, we feed them, bathe them, love them and they are sometimes the only friend in the room with us when we’re having a bad day.  I find it important that young African children have access to a doll which looks like them, their village and their nation.

I am not a militant who thinks that all things black are automatically better than others.  I am not a woman who is trying to isolate ethnic groups, tribes, or people of different skin colors.  But, I think that anyone with an honest heart would have to admit that it is crazy to think that little Black children in Africa don’t have the choice to have dolls which resemble their mothers, their sisters and their grandmothers.

Number Four: Buy local when possible. I met with a woman last month who was going back to her village in Southeast Asia to donate items to a local school.  She had taken months to raise money and items and was so excited to finally be going to donate them while on her family vacation.  One thing struck me though, she didn’t buy local.  When I asked which items she was sending, she mentioned items that could certainly have been found in the country that she was visiting.  She could (and should) have taken the monies and purchased those items locally.  In this way, her donation helped twice: the local merchants and the school children.

This is the final reason that I am sending the items that I’m sending: they can’t be purchased locally.  I am always vigilant about asking our cooperatives (or other recipients of donations) what they need.  It sounds elementary; but it is SO often overlooked.  Which leads me to the final point, one which I tell my children often: Number Five: Help means doing what people need, not simply what you want to do.

As a rule, Mama donates funds to some small, local organizations (like Mbwira Ndumva) who know how to stretch a dollar into five.  But at the end of the year, I take the greatest pleasure to send some things to Africa’s children.  It is my prayer that these items will be able to spark imagination, create dreamers, and yes allow kids to just be kids: playing with their dolls.

If you would like to participate by donating $10, Mama will use it to buy another doll and Mama will cover the shipping!  We have thus far, been sending dolls to hospitals, HIV-AIDS clinics and employment training centers so that they can be shared by children; thus increasing the impact.  In some circumstances, dolls are given to individual girls who are suffering particularly difficult times (due to serious illness, orphans, etc.)

Lastly, I’d like to you keep in mind that the real and lasting way to improve the lives of African children and their families is through the support of ethical and fair trade.  Jobs not only help women feed their families; but allow them to do so in a way that maintains their dignity (unlike hand-outs).

Happy New Year,


Beginning the Year on a Good Note

Black dolls; school, art and office supplies and toys being packed for Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana

When I was a child, I was told that it was very important to start the New Year in the same way that you want to spend the entirety of the year.  I can clearly remember my mother cleaning, cooking… in short doing all of those things she liked least in the days leading to the end of the year.  All so that she wouldn’t begin the New Year doing those things. New Year’s Day was reserved for fun, food, family and friends.  I came to learn, while growing up, that this tradition is one shared by many cultures throughout the world.

It is in this spirit that I held off a few days instead of sending the donations at the end of this year.  On the 2nd of January, you’ll find me in line doing what I hope to spend my year doing: making African children and their mothers smile.  I’ve enclosed a picture of what I’m up to right now.  I am taking a break from the packing to write a quick blog post to remind you to do the same… Don’t bother with useless resolutions about never touching any chocolate or never again losing your patience with the guy who shares the cubicle with you at work!

Instead, make a vow.  And take it as seriously as you would any other serious vow to God.  If you are a particularly grumpy character, I’m sure God will be just fine if you just make it one act of kindness per week (it is progress right?) 😉

I am setting the tone for my year of greatness, 2011.  I’m doing so by doing what I love best and hoping that it will grow again into something beautiful.  I’m sure it sounds a bit silly; but I’m choosing my first day of work in 2011 as the day that I make the first donations for the year.  But, I’ll just be the one standing in line for you.  After all, you have to get to the office, feed the kids and get them off to school on time, work off that Christmas dessert and make dinner.  I’ll be there because YOU were supportive this year.  Because you chose to offer a fair trade birthday gift to your best friend, because you chose a gift basket full of Omanhene chocolates for the office party instead of buying the usual gift cards from the big chain coffee shop around the corner.

I don’t know what the New Year holds for you.  I am not a fortune teller.  But, I can tell you one thing with no reservation: thanks to your prayers, your support, your donations… this year will start well for lots of children in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.  There will be a sick little girl in a hospital or a child in an HIV clinic waiting room who is holding a doll that looks like her.  There will be a young boy discovering the magic of a special pair of scissors that cut beautiful designs in the card that he is making for his mother.  There will be a teacher who is thankful for the relief he feels when opening a box full of supplies which make his job just a little easier.  And that will be thanks to you.

After all, I am just the woman who stands in line to ship that joy for you.  I’m just the messenger.  And I pray with my whole heart and soul that 2011 will bring many more opportunities for me to deliver good news and gifts on your behalf.

God bless you all in the New Year!