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Operation Doll Knit Touches the Lives of More Than 10,000 Children in Malawi in 7 Years

March 9, 2012

[The following story appeared in the February 9 issue of The Calgary Herald. It describes how Barbara-Jean Moore and the other women pictured above have made a difference in the lives of over 10,000 children, one child – one doll, baby cap, sweater, or blanket – at a time. We give thanks to Our Lord, Barbara-Jean, for your continuing commitment to this ministry of sharing his love in such a beautiful way!]

Living in a country like Canada – where there are entire stores devoted to  satisfying kids’ every want and whim – it’s difficult to conceptualize just how  little some children have in this world.

That’s what Jim Prichard noticed when he travelled to Malawi in 2006 and 2008  to participate in the work of Lifeline Malawi, a medical charity spearheaded by a Calgary physician more than a decade ago.

“I have never seen people in such poverty as when I went there . . . I’ve  walked along the streets in Ngodzi and seen kids playing with a couple of rusty nails,” he says.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that the average life expectancy in Malawi is around 50 years, and the country ranks 214th in terms of per capita GDP.

“Most kids in the world don’t have the concept of something being ‘mine,’ ”  Prichard adds.

And that’s where Operation Doll Knit comes in.

Every Tuesday morning, a group of some 15 to 20 women gather at the South Calgary Community Church in Braeside to knit petite dolls that are around 20 centimetres long.

Mary Nielsen and Barbara-Jean Moore have been working on the project since it started back in 2005 when a representative from Lifeline Malawi attended a seniors’ luncheon and asked if they’d be interested in knitting the colourful  little cuddlies. Nielsen didn’t hesitate to sign up.

“I love to knit. I could knit all the time,” she says, adding that the reason for the dolls was the most important factor in her decision to contribute her skills.

The dolls – almost all of which have ethnically sensitive brown faces – journey to Malawi, often replacing bubble wrap as protective packaging around fragile supplies that are going to one of Lifeline Malawi’s two medical clinics in the country.

Clinic workers then distribute the dolls to children who come to the clinic.

Prichard says Lifeline Malawi founder Dr. Chris Brooks came up with the idea to hand out dolls when he observed the Malawian children were frightened of him, as he was the first white man they had ever seen.

“He thought giving them the dolls might help gain their trust,” Prichard  says.

And, of course, put smiles on their faces.

So far, according to Nielsen’s count, the women of Operation Doll Knit have made 10,373 dolls.

Of those, Moore estimates about 500 are the result of her knitting needles, as she keeps track in a small log book.

And Operation Doll Knit has actually gone beyond dolls now. With Lifeline Malawi opening two maternity wards recently, the women also knit baby caps, blankets and sweaters.

Even though Moore and Nielsen could knit dolls in their sleep by now, they say what keeps it interesting is to make each doll unique.

“I don’t think any two are alike,” says Moore. And she’s likely correct. Some dolls have braids, some are wearing skirts, some sport hats and a spiky fringe of hair, and they come in all colours of the rainbow, including the shades in  between.

Usha Dosaj has been participating in Operation Doll Knit for about a year. Unlike Moore and Nielsen, she hadn’t “knitted in years” when she joined, but she found a high level of knitting expertise is not a requirement.

“As long as you know the basic stitch, you’ll be fine,” she says.

The retired administrative assistant joined the group primarily for the “companionship,” an aspect of Operation Doll Knit all the women emphasize.

“We laugh a lot. The coffee pot is always on. And if you don’t like coffee, there are teabags,” Moore says, smiling.

The women estimate each doll takes about three hours to knit and stuff,  depending on the speed of the person operating the needles and the  knittingtochatting ratio.

Lifeline Malawi has also directed a few of the dolls to other locations where they perceive a need, including to hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and to orphanages in Kenya, Libya and Brazil.

“We don’t really care where they go, as long as they are doing good, comforting children,” says Nielsen.

To join the group (you don’t need to be a church member), or to donate  supplies, contact the South Calgary Community Church at 403-281-6755 and leave a  message for Moore or Nielsen.

[The Herald caption with the above photo reads: The women of Operation Doll Knit show off some of the 10,000 dolls they have knitted since 2005 at the South Calgary Community Church. The dolls are sent to children in Africa as part of Lifeline Malawi, a medical charity started by a Calgary physician. Photograph by: Dean Bicknell, Calgary Herald, for Neighbours.]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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