Uthando Project


Uthando dolls are given to five different agencies in KwaZulu Natal: TREEdlalanathiLifelineFamily Literacy Project including Vukuzakhe Projects, and Sizabantwana (Pietermaritzburg primary schools). 

The five agencies, all NGOs (Non-Government Organisations), all work in different ways with children and their emotional, mental and social development. Each organisation applies our Uthando dolls to suit their different needs, age range of the children, training resources, community impact, geographical position and network. (Note that we also encourage dollmakers everywhere to make full use of our patterns and principles to make dolls for other countries and cultures.)


TREE (Training and Resources in Early Education), is based in Durban. TREE trains women in accredited top-level early childhood development and has been a leader in this field for over 27 years. TREE trains over 1000 women in early childhood development each year, and their graduates, child care centres and home based child care form a huge network across KZN. (Click on the map to enlarge.)

Currently only 14% of young children in KZN have the advantage of going to to an early childhood centre or home based child care. It can be quite difficult for the other 86% when they arrive at primary school at age 6, as they are not prepared for sociability and disciplined learning.

Without stimulation, especially in untrained ‘child minding’ situations, children spend their days in a passive state, with little chance of expression. In contrast, TREE child care centres create bright, stimulating environments, even when resources are limited. TREE is a great promoter of creative recycling in the play space. Whole environments and toys can be made from cardboard and papier mâché.

Our dolls play a role in supporting TREE’s work in urban and isolated rural areas. Sometimes home visitor staff will carry bags of dolls and equipment over long distances to reach families in need. Find out more about their work at their website, www.tree-ecd.co.za

Dolls for TREE: We suggest lots of knitted dolls, including boy dolls, plus animals and balls for TREE. Read more about the recently updated very specific needs for TREE dolls.

Sizabantwana Primary Schools

This is a cooperative of 47 primary schools in the Pietermaritzburg area, working for mutual emotional support for staff and students, under the guidance of the Department of Psychology of the University of KZN.

In all schools in KZN there is need for emotional support, referrals and counselling, not just for the students (learners), but for the teachers (educators) as well. No one is spared the daily burden of grief, disappointment, loss, bewilderment and family disintegration and deaths caused by the double impact of HIV/AIDS and poverty.

In 2013, Uthando volunteers visited two Sizabantwana primary schools for first hand experience of daily life and to teach (even the very young ones) how to make a small doll. This took great adaptability and was hugely successful.

Dolls for Sizabantwana PS: Many of the dolls made by school students go to our Sizabantwana partners. Schools from around the world take on the Uthando challenge “To make by hand dolls which will be a joy for the children of KwaZulu Natal”. It helps with quality control if the teachers involved touch base with our Schools Coordinator, Lynne Tognolini, as the dolls need to be very sturdy and not require fixing up by volunteers later on.

Dolls for TREE: We suggest lots of knitted dolls, including boy dolls, plus animals and balls for TREE. Read more about the recently updated very specific needs for TREE dolls.

Family Literacy Project

In and around Underberg, in the Drakensberg region of rural KZN, staff and volunteers tackle family literacy in creative, empowering ways. Small libraries, centres or homes are used to bring whole families together to learn literacy. This project is of vital importance, as when the adults become literate they gain confidence in bringing changes to their community. Also, when school children are at home and others can read and write, their education is reinforced and encouraged. Everyone can be involved.

In August 2013,  Lynn Stefano, the Director for Family Literacy Project at that time, wrote about their new situation, partnering another organisation, Vukuzakhe Projects. Here is an edited transcript of her email:

We have about 40 women who are currently making dolls, and about another 40 are wanting to start. We would still like to receive some of the beautiful Uthando dolls for our libraries if possible.

Our new alliance is with the NGO Vukuzakhe Projects, with their Director, Pierre Horn. They are also based in Underberg and in fact, have worked with dlalanathi and do counselling under their Songololo community programme.  Vukuzakhe would love to receive dolls for their work in the low cost housing areas in Underberg and Himeville.  They would like to give about 230 children dolls to take home, plus have 10 dolls for each of the four crèches they support, and at least 8 or more boy and girl dolls for their Songololo counselling sessions. 

In terms of the kind of dolls we need:  we definitely need about half of the dolls for babies  and toddlers – without beads and trinkets that they may swallow.  And then the rest in the very creative and interesting styles that are so typical of Uthando dolls.  But as you know, we love them all, and all are appreciated deeply.

Uthando volunteers visited an FLP centre in Ndodeni, near Centacow. In a beautiful traditional Zulu environment, their well stocked library in a single roomed building  is full of games for children, especially the younger ones who have to be brought there by their mothers or grannies. A large basket full of Uthando dolls for play there, not for home, is really well used. Our dolls need to be strong! Read more at the Family Literacy Project website. There’s a lovely page reporting on the arrival of some Uthando dolls.

Dolls for FLP and Vukuzakhe: Dolls which suit the older generation playing with the preschoolers are very useful, but not limited to those ages. Include families of dolls, knitted balls, puppets and animals. Find out more about dolls that suit the Family Literacy Project.

Lifeline Rape and Crisis Centres

Lifeline Rape and Crisis Centres are based in Pietermaritzburg, extending their counselling and support services across many centres in rural KZN. They work in situations of crisis and violence with children and adults. Sometimes the children are very young and the damage could remain with them for life.

Lifeline provides a very thoughtful bag of necessities and items of comfort to each traumatised child. This includes a change of clothes, toiletries, notebook and pen, biscuits and, if they have enough, a Uthando doll. We send the dolls, each in a large bag to hold these items. This bag should be sturdy, with a pocket and perhaps using textured fabric somewhere which the child will stroke for comfort.

Volunteers are trained to sensitively handle these distraught situations via personal meeting, phone or email. Talking circles are used for shared expression. Children are accompanied in reporting to police or court. Situations like these deserve the very best dolls that we can make with ample extras for play. For a child (and even adult) who has experienced abuse, to care for a doll may ease the grief and even prevent suicide. Read more at www.lifeonline.co.za

Dolls for Lifeline: Read more about the many kinds of dolls needed by Lifeline.


dlalanathi, centred in Pietermaritzurg, is a small but highly effective organisation, working with communities that want to create a safer world for their children and support the (often elderly) caregivers. Recently dlalanathi’s work has extended into guiding young parents (teenagers to mid 20’s) to become more sensitive parents, and into working with bereaved youth who are struggling with the impact of losing parents to HIV/AIDS. Read more in this dlalanathi Youth Bereavement Report

One of dlalanathi’s main community programmes, Play 4 Communication, includes the making and using of dolls. This work is well illustrated in our book “100 Dolls, Countless Hearts“.

dlalanathi has a special relationship with Uthando. They have hosted several groups of visiting Australian Uthando volunteers and brought them together with other organisations whose focus is the wellbeing of children. Our volunteers have seen dlalanathi’s training programs with grandmothers and children in action.

You can read more about the work of dlalanathi at their website, www.dlalanathi.org.za. Their annual reports are brief and very insightful, giving statistics on children, youth, families and communities they touch. You can also find some of their reports on our Awareness Resources page.

Dolls for dlalanathi: We suggest dolls for all ages, dolls of character which encourage story telling, (animals too) and puppets used in play and in counselling. More about dolls that suit dlalanathi. 

Note that in our early documents, dlalanathi was then called the Rob Smetherham Bereavement Services for Children. Also note that dlalanathi uses lower case font and no capital letter.

Uthando Project