Monday, June 22, 2009

Dolls that empower our children

From time to time I am asked to lead a prayer meeting at one of the retirement centres in Stellenbosch. I always enjoy doing so. Apart from feeling useful, the colourful stories of older people, often borne from a rich and eventful life, always intrigue me. Like many others, I am painfully aware of the frailty of old age and the limitations it brings. Then one also tends sometimes to view older people as a passive community, a group whose chances to serve others and make constructive new contributions have passed, as if they are left only with good memories and the prospect of death.

During the past week I was forced in a surprising way to review my somewhat stereotypical perception, and to reflect anew on my own responsibilities regarding the well-being of our society. It happened when, on a regular, routine visit, I came across some residents, mostly women, who defy any categorisation as bystanders or onlookers. In a remarkable way they use what talents they have, to make a difference in a wider context.

The women in the group are all part of a project called “Valuable to God” – a project which aims to counter the sexual abuse of small children in our country in a significant way. They sit together every day enthusiastically and committedly producing hundreds of hand knit dolls. These little dolls are passed on and distributed to children across the peninsula - the aim being to make them aware that, just like the little dolls, they are unique and precious in God’s eyes. Also that they are, just like the dolls in their hands, being held and cared for by God, no matter what experiences they may have.

Looking at these older women in action and taking their works of art into my hands was a special, in fact deeply humbling experience. Apart from sensing the profound symbolic meaning of these dolls, especially when they end up in the hands of children from poor and vulnerable communities, I also realised how important it is to be a part of South Africa’s positive and healing history. Such histories are often less conspicuous, and certainly less newsworthy than stories of violence and crime. Healing and restorative experiences are often similar to the knitted dolls: created in obscurity by unknown and seemingly insignificant people, they are vital for a hopeful future.

We must never forget this – it also reminds of how we can all contribute to the care of our children.

Carel Anthonissen

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