Pauline & Felistus

by Marsha Winsryg

Pauline & Felistus

I met Pauline in 2005 when I first  visited the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home in Livingstone, Zambia, a few miles from Victoria Falls. She was a part of social group of mothers whose children attended the special needs school there.

Pauline raised her granddaughter Felistus since her daughter’s death when the child was a baby. In 1995, she was also the first person to bring her physically challenged four year old to the brand new Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home for free therapy and educational workshops. Felistus  came wrapped in a blanket and huddled in a fetal position, totally unresponsive. She was diagnosed to have cerebral palsy.

Felistus responded to the physical therapy, extra nutrition and social contact she received as the Mama Bakhita grew over the years. When I met her in 2005, she was the social star of the group, involved in many activities and delighting in her friends and teachers.

Felistus in 2005 with her handmade puppet

Pauline was part of the original Zambezi Doll Company initiated in 2010 and could be counted on to show up and do her part producing the handmade dolls. Though her sight was not great, with a pair of glasses she was able to stitch clothing and fashion bead jewelry.

Pauling making Zambezi Dolls in 2015

In 2018 she retired and continued to receive her salary as a pension. Felistus had aged out of the Mama Bakhita School by then and was quite content to live with her grandmother, shop at the nearby market, housekeep a bit and socialize in this neighborhood where she had grown up. My dedicated manager in Zambia, Sydney Mwamba, without whom non of this work could happen, visited Pauline and Felistus every month with food and comradery. He listened to Pauline’s needs as her health declined and took her to the hospital when necessary, which was more and more often.

Felisus at home

When Pauline died on June 6, we hired Bernadette Lungu, a woman living in the neighborhood with good references and well known in Libuyu. She has agreed to live with Felistus and her great aunt, Pauline’s sister, who is blind. This is a big adjustment for Felistus and Sydney will keep in touch with her to make sure things go well.

Felistus and Bernadette Lungu

All of the children who come through the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home school are precious to us but Felistus is our poster child who came in 1995 so withdrawn and over the years opened up her wings like a butterfly. She has become a happy and important part of her community, and we pray we can keep her there.

If you are able, please make a sustaining monthly donation for any amount in her name at this website’s “Donate” button or through Bill Pay (Zelle) directly to our bank and save us the the PayPal fees. We are also setting up Venmo payments.

Thank you for your interest in these wonderful people so far from the world’s notice.


Pandemic Food Drive

by Marsha Winsryg

The ripple of the pandemic has forced the Mama Bakhita Center for Disabled Children in Livingstone, Zambia to shut its doors. For the 24 children who attend it means they can no longer get education and therapy, and more fundamentally, they cannot get the snack and lunch that was provided daily. For some of the children it was main meal of the day.

Hunger is actually a larger threat than the coronavirus. With businesses closed, mandatory lock-down and food prices that have tripled since last September, the majority of people are unable to buy food. When I learned about this situation,  I focused on finding a way to help the children and families in the Mama Bakhita community survive until they can work again. These are the children and families I visit every winter when I am in Livingstone to work with the Mama Bakhita Center and the Zambezi Doll Company.

Every month since May, our General Manager, Sydney Mwamba, and Sister Clarina Ndona, head of the Mama Bakhita, with Henry Mubati, driver for Mama Bakhita, purchased and distributed a month’s worth of food to the 24 families. 

2750 lbs. Cornmeal 
110 lbs. Beans  
110 lbs. Dried fish  
84 liters Cooking oil  
210 lbs. Sugar   
110 lbs. Sweet potatoes 
40 Cabbages  
24 bags Charcoal  –
Sanitizer, masks, gloves, soap  

That is a lot of food! We were overjoyed that people have been donating generously to this project. It has become an ongoing drive, once a month for at least few months, until people can resume their livelihoods. So, we turn once again, to our kind supporters.

$20 feeds one family for a week, $80 for a month

$60 feeds three families for a week, $240 for a month

$100 feeds five families for a week,  $400 for a month

Hand-outs are not my first choice when confronted with economic hardship. I prefer to support local organizations, such as the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Center for Disabled Children. We have promoted economic opportunities like the Zambezi Doll Company , and M’pekala, Sr. Immaculata Mulyei’s Sisal Project for rural women. We have sought and provided educational sponsors for other children in these same families. Our efforts are personal and limited to a small community in Livingstone. We know and trust each other.

You could say that the AACDP prefers to teach people to fish rather than give them fish, but these days fish are needed.

To support this effort click the DONATE button on the top right side bar of our website. We hope that you will consider another donation of any size to see this food drive through the next difficult months. Another option is a recurring gift, through PayPal or Zelle, if you have on line Bill Pay. As little as $10 a month, that helps the AACDP continue its projects through good times and bad.

These dollars go a long way in Zambia. Your gift will make a great impact on the lives in this small community.

Thank you!

Zambezi Doll Cooperative


M’Pekala (Where We Live)

by Marsha Winsryg

M’Pekala is the name that the 10 women have given to their economic initiative project making sisal bags. It refers to the fact that they are able to add to the prosperity of their community by fashioning and selling these products and not only by their traditional agricultural work.

This project is the result of Sister Immaculata Mulyei, a Franciscan sister, who once lived in the region and is well aware of the difficulty these woman face earning cash money, being hours away from the nearest town.

Sister Immaculata Mulyei

Two groups from two villages have taken up her challenge to come up with a plan to manufacture a salable product. One group is making oil from a local nut, called mungongo in the local language and known as candlenut in English. M’Pekala was taught to make sisal baskets by master Zimba basket maker, who they hosted in their village for two weeks three years ago.

On the way to Sekute, the M’Pekala group’s village north of Livingstone

Then they planted sisal plants to make their baskets with. The beauty of this plant is that it needs no water. Drought has made their normal method of earning extra cash, raising meat animals, impossible. Sisal is a good solution, but it takes a long time to get big enough to harvest. Someday they won’t need to buy raw sisal, which they have difficulty finding.

Three women of M’Pekala with the young sisal plant, already three years old

Each winter season when they are through working in the fields, the women focus on weaving sisal bags and finding ways to add handles or lining. Each year, the quality improves, and the AACDP wants to offer them for sale on its website. The biggest problem right now is shipping the finished product to the US, because it costs a small fortune. The price to fedex 15 bags was $300! The local postal system was reliable until a year ago and now is almost defunct. That’s one hurdle to approach.


Zambezi Dolls Are Born

by Marsha Winsryg

Until the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home came into being in 1996, there were few options for children with handicaps in Livingstone, Zambia. They stayed at home and many were kept out of sight because of prejudice and shame. The free services offered at the Mama Bakhita, such as education, physiotherapy and medical attention, gradually made people aware that these kids could learn and contribute to their community.
Still, the lack of work and the minimal pay scale for the menial jobs available, left their mothers struggling to pay rent and feed their families. Having handicapped children made working that much harder. It was clear that these women needed income.
It seemed to me that a simple, handmade doll could be a valuable product that the mothers of children at the Mama Bakhita Home might be able to produce and sell.
And so, Zambezi Dolls were born….
In 2011 I spent three weeks working with these women to develop a doll that could be made entirely by hand, and could be sold for enough money to make an economic difference in their lives. I hoped that, in time, these dolls might generate real income for these determined craftswomen.

Doll Work/mothers of disabled children
Zambezi Doll Makers

It was also clear to me there are not enough dolls of color in the world and that we do not need more plastic polluting our environment. So these dolls needed to be made of natural materials in a variety of skin tones. Add to these facts the need for meaningful work for economically challenged women anywhere, and you have reasons that Zambezi Dolls seemed like a very good idea.
Production began, but it was not at all easy. We began to make dolls with the idea that each woman would make her own from beginning to end. But because everyone had a different level of skill in handwork. Some were able to make five well-made dolls in the time it took another to make one less well-made doll. What to do?
Sister Agnes Daka, then director of the Mama Bakhita Cheshire School, solved the problem beautifully. She suggested they break down the doll making into steps, from the cutting out of the body patterns all the way to the making of the clothing. Everyone was capable of doing several parts of the production and together they were able to create finished dolls.

In this way they evolved into a true cooperative that produce beautifully made dolls entirely sewn by hand. Gradually every detail has been studied and practiced and the quality of each stitch is evident. Each doll is unique and no two are alike. This makes them very special indeed and ensures variety and creativity for the doll makers. As each woman advances her skill level, she can take on new and more difficult aspects of the process, like embroidering the faces and designing new hair styles. They are rightly proud of their achievements. And it means that any child anywhere can find the doll that is right for them.

Dolls of color, natural fiber

The twelve women can produce about 400 to 500 dolls per month. When the sales of the dolls increase, we will assemble a new group of twelve economically challenged women from the same community to be trained alongside and by the skilled original doll makers. We hope to grow this way and improve quality of life in the area.

Zambezi handmade ethnic dolls cotton soft unique
The Zambezi Doll Company women in 2019