At our first World Market Monday sale we ended with a fundraising event for special guest Sr. Immaculata Mulyei who described her women’s income initiative in Secute, Zambia. She named it “Mpekala” meaning “Where We Live” in the local language, Lozi. In gaining the means to produce income, the women are able to send their children to school. This is especially important for girls who often stand second in line to their brothers when a family can only afford to send one child.

Last year Sr. Immaculata spent several weekends walking from village to village assessing the needs of the women and then considering what endeavor might be best suited to those groups that showed serious interest.

Here in the US we were able to raise money for a pilot training program. Two professional basket makers from a nearby village were hired to teach the women how to make the baskets with prepared sisal. Step two was to plant sisal, a desert plant requiring very little water, to eventually provide the raw materials.

Sr. Immaculata brought with her from Zambia 16 finished bags to sell at our market and a power point presentation to tell the story. At the end of the presentation, people crowded to her table and bought all but three of the bags which is very good news for the women in Secute and will motivate them to further improve the details of the bags.

Because this is a sustainable project and can weather the vagaries of climate change, we are looking to find funds to start an eager second group. If you would like to contribute to growing this project, these women can gradually improve the quality of life in their home and community and educate their girls, reducing the need for early marriages.

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Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Until the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home came into being in 1996, there were few options for children with handicaps in Livingstone, Zambia. They stayed at home and many were kept out of sight because of prejudice and shame. The free services offered at the Mama Bakhita, such as education, physiotherapy and medical attention, gradually made people aware that these kids could learn and contribute to their community.

Still, the lack of work and the minimal pay scale for the menial jobs available, left their mothers struggling to pay rent and feed their families. Having handicapped children made working that much harder. It was clear that these women needed income.

It seemed to me that a simple, handmade doll could be a valuable product that the mothers of children at the Mama Bakhita Home might be able to produce and sell.

And so, Zambezi Dolls were born....

In 2011 I spent three weeks working with these women to develop a doll that could be made entirely by hand, and could be sold for enough money to make an economic difference in their lives. I hoped that, in time, these dolls might generate real income for these determined craftswomen.

It was also clear to me there are not enough dolls of color in the world and that we do not need more plastic polluting our environment. So these dolls needed to be made of natural materials in a variety of skin tones. Add to these facts the need for meaningful work for economically challenged women anywhere, and you have reasons that Zambezi Dolls seemed like a very good idea.

Production began, but it was not at all easy. We began to make dolls with the idea that each woman would make her own from beginning to end. But because everyone had a different level of skill in handwork. Some were able to make five well-made dolls in the time it took another to make one less well-made doll. What to do?

Sister Agnes Daka, then director of the Mama Bakhita Cheshire School, solved the problem beautifully. She suggested they break down the doll making into steps, from the cutting out of the body patterns all the way to the making of the clothing. Everyone was capable of doing several parts of the production and together they were able to create finished dolls.

In this way they evolved into a true cooperative that produce beautifully made dolls entirely sewn by hand. Gradually every detail has been studied and practiced and the quality of each stitch is evident. Each doll is unique and no two are alike. This makes them very special indeed and ensures variety and creativity for the doll makers. As each woman advances her skill level, she can take on new and more difficult aspects of the process, like embroidering the faces and designing new hair styles. They are rightly proud of their achievements. And it means that any child anywhere can find the doll that is right for them.

The twelve women can produce about 400 to 500 dolls per month. When the sales of the dolls increase, we will assemble a new group of twelve economically challenged women from the same community to be trained alongside and by the skilled original doll makers. We hope to grow this way and improve quality of life in the area.

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

I met Sr. Immaculata Mulyei in 2002, on my first visit to Livingstone, Zambia to visit the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home. She is a small, trim and thoughtful person in her mid-seventies now, highly respected in the community, with a dry sense of humor and an abiding concern for rural women with their struggles. A modest and determined woman, she quietly searches for ways to accomplish her considerable goals: to help small groups of rural women to sustain themselves by adapting their economic endeavors to the changing environment.

Mpekala is her name for this project, meaning “where I live”. In the past she has raised money to supply cows, goats and chickens to ten groups of these women living in the remote Sekute area outside of Livingstone. But changing weather patterns bringing drought have made watering their animals difficult.

Sisal can be easily grown with little water, so a new project is being put forward: the making of woven sisal bags using natural dyes. The goal is to produce their own sisal and to learn how to make handsome shoulder and hand bags of varying sizes.

The bags will then be promoted and sold as fair trade goods of the best order. I myself will offer them for sale in my internet store as well as at my craft sales.

What is needed to begin is $500 dollars of start up money to buy the first sisal, since it will take a season to grow their own, and to hire a teacher from the Zimba tribe who is skilled in this art.

This project is all about sustainability and adaptation. Is there a generous person out there have the where-with-all to take on the privilege of helping this woman start her program?

Thank you.

News from Zambia