Dollmaking in KZN

Since Uthando Project began in 2004, there has always been interest in KwaZulu Natal by the women wanting to make their own dolls. It is enthralling to see your own children play with dolls which you have made yourself. These dolls for “play” are considerably different from the upright stance of the traditional Zulu doll dressed in fine hat and tribal clothing.

Traditional beaded Zulu dolls

Traditional beaded Zulu dolls

As the NGO, dlalanathi, evolved the processes within their community workshops, so the actual making of a doll became embedded as one of the processes of self discovery, empowerment, creativity and deeper understanding of children’s needs. This gave real purpose for the few visits by Australian volunteers to offer the dollmaking techniques which we designed to suit the KZN children and also to be applied in any culture. These workshops and the ensuing programmes by dlalanathi resulted in hundreds of dolls being made in KZN on the road to self-sustainabilty. It brought the two organisations into a close relationship.

In 2009 we had the privilege in Western Australia for new and old dollmakers to learn directly from dlalanathi CEO and staff member about the ways they used the dolls with families and communities. This made us into real partners, appreciating the reciprocity. Uthando maintains its platform of partnership with the organisations in KZN, not the usual disempowering donor/recipient relationship.


Family Literacy Project hosted the Australian team too

Uthando dollmakers visit: In 2006, 2008 and 2013, Australian Uthando volunteers visited KZN to meet with our NGO partners and to run workshops in Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Underberg and rural communities, Our hosts were our major partner, dlalanathi, who ensured that our joint Dollmaking for Communication workshops attracted the participation of a wide number of local organisations. Participants were local staff and volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who work with children and teenagers at risk.

At the workshops, participants learned how to design and make dolls and how to use play for deeper communication with children. They then took these dollmaking and play skills into their own communities, as you’ll read below.

There is an enormous input by local NGOs and volunteers into bringing social change, and our aim is always to support this. This letter from the dlalanathi team gives a little glimpse into the way in which we gain from working together: Cover letter for AR and Financial June 2013 UD

We also had very moving feedback from workshop participants about what they had learned from the experience, for example in: workshop_feedback_oct_2008_

The dollmaking workshops are designed to bring to the surface each person’s own childhood and lifetime experiences through their own story, traditional stories, games and dollmaking. They use the processes of introspection and reflection, paired sharing, group discussions and hilarious songs and games.

dlalanathi’s staff are inclusive, patient and courageous. It is moving for us to hear how participants gain a new understanding of their own childhoods and of ways of relating to children, and plan to take this new knowledge into their own communities. This is work of transformation in relationships … the very essence of cultural change.

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Dollmaking now continues in KwaZulu Natal: We are greatly encouraged every time we hear of more dollmaking taking place in KZN. Uthando can only play a small catalytic role in encouraging KZN doll making and promoting play. The real energy and creativity comes from the many participants who have learned how to make dolls through the dlalanathi workshops.  To hear another person’s pivotal life experiences is often rare and  gives each of us precious insights and understandings of how the Uthando dolls can have such positive outcomes. Even when resources are severely limited, hundreds of KZN women have now made dolls for the children in their care.