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Zambezi doll company home

Piece #4  A Place of Our Own

The doll makers have been working in the hydrotherapy room at the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home, a facility that was financed by an Irish organization called Touch Ireland. It was built five years ago and, along with the physiotherapy room, has been used hardly at all due to Zambian bureaucratic regulations and lack of maintenance.

The Mama Bakhita has supported our efforts to create a doll business for these women, some of whom have or had disabled children at the the school here. Sr. Agnes supervised them in the first years after I designed the simple dolls and began training the women to make them. It was her idea that the women share the different tasks in making a doll, with each woman doing the part she was best suited for and all sharing equally in the profits. This has worked well over the years since 2010, when we began, causing the women to form a tightly knit group that supports each other.

I come every winter to work on the quality of the dolls to improve their marketability. For many years, I have been the main customer, buying a large quantity of dolls, at least 100, twice a year. This gave them a surge of cash twice a year but not the consistent income they need to support their minimal requirements. Often this means that I send money to sustain them, because I want them to keep at it. I have always had faith that one day our project would be a success. And, surprisingly to me, they continue to believe this too.

Although the hydrotherapy room leaves much to be desired as a workspace, the rent is free, so we have been very grateful for that. In return, the women volunteer to cook lunch for the school children three days a week.

In the back of my mind has been the desire to rent a small house that will serve as a workspace where they can work comfortably, safely store their valuable doll supplies and cook their lunch inside instead of outside on a brazier.

One day Sydney and I ran into A friend in the street in town. “Proby is in real estate now” Sydney mentioned to me as we approached and I asked if he knew of any houses to rent in our neighborhood. Well, yes, there was a house around the corner from the Mama Bakhita.

We walked through the gates of the property, shaded by mango trees, and into a very substantial cement house built in the Indian style, very large central space with two open areas and two long galleries on each side for the five bedrooms and four bathrooms and a kitchen. There was a pantry for storage, closets in every room and the rent was a very reasonable $300 a month.

The doll makers were overjoyed. This was clearly a sign that things were starting to happen. On Friday we signed a lease. On Saturday we all cleaned the house. Not having furniture was a problem, but Sydney and Chembo found a few tables and chairs and so the doll makers went to their new workshop on Monday. That same morning that I left for the States.

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Sydney Goes for a Degree

by Marsha Winsryg

AACDP show - 065In 2007, Sydney Mwamba wrote and asked me to sponsor him in a business diploma program. His aunt makes crafts for me, so I asked her if Sydney was a good bet. She replied enthusiastically “Sydney is the hardest working young man and best student in our village.” So began an association that has grown into a kind of partnership.

Sydney checks out and sends the crafts, oversees quality control, manages crises and keeps me generally informed about our people and projects in Lusaka and Livingstone. He has used his training and exceptional people skills working with the AACDP.  Now he is going to University to get that final degree that says you are serious about your field. It isn’t easy to get $5000 a year together for most Zambians, 80% of whom are way below the poverty line. Scholarships are rare and limited. But we are putting our eggs in this Indiegogo basket and hope for the best. Please give Sydney a chance.

With this degree he will be qualified to start up a craft export business in Livingstone, Zambia in collaboration with the AACDP. We hope to train and hire handicapped people as well as others, perhaps incorporating a worker-owned agenda. Employment is one of Zambia’s greatest needs, and hiring the disabled is even rarer. Sydney is smart, hardworking and eminently suited for this task.

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Zambezi Dolls: Made in Zambia

by Marsha Winsryg

Zambezi Dolls: Made in Zambia

The ladies who call themselves the God Given Gift Club met with me today at the Mama Bakhita Center bringing with them a mountain of dolls that they have been working on for the past few months in anticipation of my coming and buying them. My goal is to work on each one as needed to make her as attractive as possible, adding earrings on some, redoing stern eyebrows on others, tacking down strands of yarn hair, adding a bit of lace or a ribbon sash. We have two weeks to tweak 75 dolls. These ladies are motivated as well as very skillful.

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AACDP has a cute little store again this year in Edgartown, across form Town Hall, thanks to Barbara Courtney. Below is a sampling of the new Kikoy cloth we have. Please stop by and see all the lovely, handmade crafts that are supporting disabled children, educational grants, women’s income projects and artisan’s families in Zambia.

Opening this Friday and Saturday, November 29 and 30.

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