October 4 2018

Dolls of Hope – Bringing Joy To Refugees

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am originally from Canada and came to Utah in 2004 to start a Master’s degree. I met my husband, got married and have been in Utah ever since. We have five young children, the youngest being 4 ½ year old twin girls. I have always had a heart to serve others and have found various ways to serve those in need throughout my life. While completing my master’s degree I had the opportunity to get involved heavily in humanitarian work and haven’t looked back.

What exactly is Dolls of Hope?

Dolls of Hope is a community of people striving to bring hope and joy to children one doll and one bear at a time. We believe every child deserves to have a toy to cherish and work to make that possible because we know how much comfort stuffed toys bring to children, especially to children in crisis and children who have nothing.

What inspired you to start Dolls of Hope?

In May 2016 I was talking with a woman about her recent trip to Greece to help with the refugee crisis. One of the things she shared with me was witnessing the children in camps playing with whatever they could find, things like trash, rusty nails, scorpions, etc. because they didn’t have any toys to play with. During the conversation we spoke about her wanting to start a project helping to provide arts and crafts and education programs to refugees living in one of the camps in Northern Greece and I had committed to help her with her efforts. Shortly after this conversation I was driving with my 5 children and I had the thought I could make dolls and bears for the refugee children living in this camp and that I was sure I could find others who would want to join me.

I believe I was inspired to start Dolls of Hope because of my own children. They all really love stuffed animals, they love to carry them around with them and take them everywhere. Seeing the comfort and joy stuffed animals and dolls have brought to my own children who have not experienced any trauma I believed stuffed animals and dolls could offer the same blessings, and be even more meaningful to children who have endured severe trauma and crisis. That stuffed animals and dolls would mean even more to children who have no toys to play with and no items to bring them comfort and hope.

And because I have made dolls and stuffed animals for my children before I knew I could do the same for other children.

How did you come up with the name?

I knew the name had to encapsulate our desire to bring hope, joy and comfort to children living in refugee camps and started brainstorming different ideas. When “Dolls of Hope” came to my mind I just knew it was perfect.

You are serving children in refugee camps & crisis; can you tell us about that?

Image taken by Steven Wood. Young Rohingya child in Bangladesh being given a doll by Helen Gurr, supporter of Dolls of Hope.

I started Dolls of Hope because I wanted to provide the children living in refugee camps with a toy to play with and something to bring them comfort. However, as I continued to gather and send dolls and bears, I realized there was no need to limit our efforts only to children living in refugee camps / children who were refugees. I realized we could send dolls and bears to children around the world who were living in areas plagued by war, drought, poverty, etc., to children who were in the Foster Care system, children who were separated from their parents, children who were survivors of trafficking. I realized we could serve children all around the world who needed a toy to play with or a stuffed animal to bring them comfort and help them feel loved.

We have sent dolls and bears throughout the United States to children living on Indian reservations, children living in Foster Care, children in poverty, children who are in the hospital, children who are survivors of trafficking, children who are newly resettled refugees, etc etc etc. We have also sent dolls and bears to children in 22 other countries around the world. Again, children living in refugee camps, children living in poverty, survivors of trafficking, orphans, etc etc etc.

Is there a favorite doll?

Image by Steven Wood.

Image by Steven Wood.

We have sent over 10,000 dolls / bears in the last two years since I started Dolls of Hope. These have been made by thousands of people, including myself so it would be impossible to have a favorite doll or bear. However, I have a favorite picture I have received of a little boy who received a bear. This little boy is a Rohingya refugee living in Bangladesh. I had been wanting and trying to get dolls and bears in to Bangladesh for the Rohingya refugees for months and finally I found a group traveling there who was able to take some. A photographer with the group took this picture and sent it to me. He said: “This little boy was probably the most excited I had seen any child get when they received a bear or a doll. He literally had that permanent grin the entire time we were there.” It is difficult for me to explain the feelings in my heart as I see pictures of the children receiving dolls or bears or hear how excited and happy they are when they receive a doll or bear, but this picture of this little boy was extra special to me. Because when I look at his face I see my 6 year old son smiling at me. He looks so much like my son that when I look at his picture I feel such feelings of love and connection for him. I feel connected to this little boy on the other side of the world who I have never met in a way that reminds me we are all connected to each other and that we all belong to each other.

What is your favorite part about running Dolls of Hope?

Definitely seeing pictures of the children who receive dolls and bears and hearing of the joy on their faces as they are given a doll or a bear.

What is your least favorite part about running Dolls of Hope?

Wanting desperately to be able to reach children living in a certain area or children affected by a particular crisis, but being unable to find a way to reach them because of extenuating factors, unreliable mail services, international shipping limitations, inability to connect with the necessary organizations, etc.

My second least favorite part is having to ask for donations to help cover the shipping expenses of sending dolls and bears to children in need around the world. Thankfully because of the generosity of so many of our supporters, this doesn’t happen very often, or when it does, many are quick to donate.

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How do you spread the word about your company?

I post all donations received and all shipments we send on our social media pages (@dollsofhope on IG and @dollsofhopeinternational on FB). Sharing everything on social media and tagging those who donate items in posts (both the posts when I receive items and when I send shipments) has proved very successful in raising awareness about what we do as many are able to learn about Dolls of Hope and share Dolls of Hope on their own social media accounts. We have also used service oriented websites such as JustServe.org and held information booths at community events, etc. to raise awareness about Dolls of Hope.

Can you share a success story from one of the children you have given a doll too?

I’m not really sure how to answer this question because we don’t follow the children who receive them to know how the doll or bear helps them over a period of time. We only know how they react when they receive a doll or bear. I do have a couple success stories about refugee girls and women who have been able to make dolls and bears themselves.

I was contacted by a woman named Maureen Hurley 1 ½ years ago or so who volunteered at the Melissa Network in Athens and was helping set up a sewing center and wanted to know if the refugee

Image by Steven Wood.

and migrant women coming to the sewing center could make Dolls of Hope bears. I was thrilled with the idea of refugee women and girls being able to make bears to give to children in the nearby camps and squats as well as making them for themselves. Maureen ran the sewing area and shared the following with me:

“This is a very special 13 year old girl from Syria. She has been coming to the Melissa centre for almost 9 months however instead of participating in the language or other classes she was always found running around the center. When we started sorting material for the bears on Tuesday she sat down and stayed with us for almost 2 hrs! As the space is still under construction we are waiting for the sewing room to be finished so we were not planning on sewing bears that day. I told her I would teach her to use the sewing machines next week when everything would hopefully be done. But she did not want to wait, she just went ahead and hand stitched her bear..and the smile on her face is sending you love. There has been such a transformation of this girl since. All of the teachers are surprised as they did not think that anything would get her to sit still and concentrate.”
I can’t tell you what it meant to me to hear this and to know that while so many teachers and volunteers at the center had almost given up on this young woman all it took was something that interested her to get her involved. That something as small as being able to make her own bear, being able to create something with her own hands is all she needed to engage and participate. Art and the ability to create something yourself is incredibly healing and therapeutic. And when we really stop to think about it it makes perfect sense because art and creating is the opposite of war and destruction.
And I love that she wanted to do it so badly she couldn’t wait an extra week to use the machine.
Knowing making bears brings her (and others at the Melissa Network) a little joy and hope and might even help her heal fills my heart to overflowing. And what’s really neat is just a couple weeks after this she was embellishing bears with little jewels and sewing them up on the sewing machine in minutes.

• I have been told many of the Yazidi refugee women who make dolls and bears in the Dolls of Hope sewing corner at the refugee camp in Greece have experienced hope and healing as they have been able to make dolls and bears for orphaned Yazidi children still inside Iraq. More about the sewing center can be found below.

Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Follow your passion and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and in to the unknown. If you believe in yourself and are passionate about what you’re doing, you can do anything and accomplish so much more than you ever imagined.

Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? 🙂

This is a hard one as I LOVE quotes so much. But I think I will share two that mean a lot to me right now.

“We are indissolubly united, and must fall or flourish together.” – Frederick Douglass

“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” – Helen Keller

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

A few things😊

A) Something that I am incredibly excited about is our Dolls of Hope sewing corner we set up in

Image by David Lohmueller

February 2018 at a refugee camp in Greece. In the sewing corner Yazidi refugee women and young girls make bears and dolls to be given to Yazidi children still in Iraq. Learning about the Yazidi genocide has been incredibly heartbreaking and knowing how much the Yazidi women and children and men have suffered I am humbled to be able to provide this opportunity to them.

Allowing the Yazidi women to be able to feel the healing and hope that comes from service and making items for someone else is humbling. There is just something

Image by David Lohmueller

special about making something for someone else that you know will bring them comfort, and especially to a child you know has nothing. I love that the Yazidi women have felt this as they have made dolls and bears for Yazidi orphaned children inside Iraq. Honestly this has been the most beautiful unexpected development of Dolls of Hope, Yazidi refugees making dolls and bears for other Yazidi’s still inside Iraq. I could have never imagined something so beautiful and impactful. The women and girls have made 105 bears/dolls that have distributed to Yazidi children inside Iraq.

B) I have loved watching how Dolls Of Hope has grown exponentially over the last 2 years and to see the lives that have been touched in the process. For the children receiving the dolls and bears and the individuals and groups who make them and the ways my own life has been enriched and blessed as well.

C) In June we sent off our largest shipment ever of 1229 bears and dolls to children separated from their parents at the southern border of the United States.

The FB page: https://www.facebook.com/dollsofhopeinternational/

The IG page: www.instagram.com/dollsofhope

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