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Doll delight

Children in Kenya with their dolls

Kiwanis clubs around the world make dolls for children in hospitals. Few are likely prepared to ship them halfway across the globe. Despite the financial cost associated with their passion, Kiwanis-family members around the Michigan District have shown a multi-year commitment to mailing their colorful dolls to countries around the African continent.

As a means to build on a partnership program between clubs in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States, one Michigan Kiwanian’s work in sewing dolls and dresses was expanded throughout the district. The grandmother of a five-year-old who underwent open heart surgery with a trauma doll by his side, Pat Kiroff knew firsthand the impact of giving something comforting to a child, whether because they were ill or simply in need of something to call their own. While serving as the district’s Young Children: Priority One chairwoman, she put out a call for dolls similar to the many already being constructed for children’s hospitals, and the project spread like wildfire. Forty-four clubs—including Aktion Clubs, Key Clubs and CKI Clubs—made more than 1,200 dolls for the first distribution area:  Kenya.

Fabricating the dolls was just the beginning. Rachelle Strawther-Okumu, a Kisumu, Kenya, Kiwanian working with the Kisumu Youth Football Association, was coordinating a volunteering mission in Kenya with a British football club when she learned of an opportunity too good to resist.

“They had fundraised a serious amount of money to bring over donated items and were planning on shipping everything,” Strawther-Okumu says. We emailed them about the possibility of including the dolls.”

To get them to the United Kingdom, one Michigan Kiwanian’s shipping connections proved invaluable.

Once the dolls arrived in Kenya, members of the Kisumu Kiwanis Club distributed them, along with some fruit, to child patients at the provincial and district hospitals.

“Although the facilities have improved tremendously over the years, it’s still heart-breaking to see so many cases of malaria, HIV, cancer, etc.,” Strawther-Okumu reflects. “While the dolls cannot cure the children of their illnesses or change their circumstances, they certainly make their eyes light up and give them joy.” 

The total of dolls produced by the Michigan District has crossed the 5,000 mark, with another 1,200 dolls being made for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly 1,800 for Nigeria and 400 for South Africa, again using shipping connections to have the mailing costs waived or reduced. Although Kiroff’s heart is set on continuing the project indefinitely with a primary focus on Africa, she isn’t opposed to requests for dolls to other countries. One hundred  were taken to Nicaragua by a church group.

“I feel that even if one child will smile when they receive a doll, then I have achieved my goal. This is to give them something of their own to hold and play with happily,” says Kiroff.  —Courtney Meyer

Interested in making dolls of your own? You can utilize this template.

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