A History of
Dollies Without Borders

by Madeline


I have always loved children and I have always had a love of dolls. For many years I was a doll maker. During the 1970s and 1980s I made traditional Raggedy Ann dolls, as well as creating different variations. I made native American, Asian, African, and mermaid dolls. Dolls can be a child's friend and playmate. A doll can carry our dreams and wishes.

During April and May of 2006, I had the wonderful opportunity to live and volunteer in rural Tanzania. Deb Kelly (co founder of the Imbaseni free library) suggested that one of the projects was to teach doll classes at the local library. We had a full house at every class. I brought threads, pins and needles from the States. We used Tanzania textiles. Carrie Doggett was my wonderful assistant. She is nearly fluent in Swahili (I am doing my best to learn)Together we shopped for local fabrics, designed the dolls including some stuffed animals and taught classes. Nearly 100 villagers came to the doll classes. Not only went back to their shambas with a dolly, they also had the beginnings of a new skill.


Prior to my arrival to Africa money was raised in the states through Good Hope Africa to buy two treadle sewing machines for a local AIDS orphanage . Thus we began sewing lessons. Hand sewing was also taught. I have never before seen such abject poverty, I have also never before seen such gratitude. Good Hope like most of Africa deals with necessities. The older children are learning a very valuable skill that may indeed give them a vocation in their adult years. For now they are learning to make some of their clothes and handbags, and they are learning to mend.

During my time in Tanzania I noticed none of the children had toys, except one child who was playing with a small white broken plastic doll. That's when the idea came to me that children should have dolls that reflect their own culture and are made to be soft and cuddly, and also to last. So began my dream.