Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

Dolls Makers of TGD

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The cluster of mud and brick houses in the plains of Punjab, Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka (TGD) looks like a typical Pakistani village about 80 kilometers away from Lahore and 40 kilometers from Indus civilization ruins in Harappa. There is no gas or telephone in the village. No asphalt roads lead to it. Even the electricity is the recent phenomenon. Yet it is different, the beautiful dolls and other handicrafts made by the village women are collectors, delight all over the world. Influences from Indus civilization from near by Harappa and modern techniques brought by the German volunteers can be seen in the village together.

The dolls made in the village are on display in international doll museum in Iceland, prestigious galleries and showrooms in Pakistan and abroad. TGD village doll project was one of the 767 worldwide projects presented in the “Themepark” at expo 2000 in Hannover (Germany) as an example of thinking of twenty first century. Earlier, the dolls from Pakistan participated in international toy fair in Nuremberg. These dolls show how culture goes beyond simple work of art and becomes collaboration among applied and natural sciences as well as other forces that affect our lives.

How all this started? A Pakistan studying in Germany, Amjad Ali who is a native of village TGD invited his German teachers Dr. Senta Siller to visit his village back home. Dr. Senta Siller (and Dr. Norbert Pinstch) came to the village where she was presented a doll made by a local woman. She was impressed by the doll and liked the natural and simple village life. She decided to work for the village, established NGO Anjumane-e-Falah-e-Aama and started community based Woman Art center in TGD in 1992. The aim of this center is to involve local womenfolk in productive, creative and healthy income generating activities. She created awareness and built confidence among the women specially the young girls of the village and asked them to make dolls and toys on self-help biases that she is now marketing all over the world. The village and its residents are benefiting in the process.

Some people live and make difference in the lives of others. Born in 1935 in Vienna (Austria), Senta Siller took refuge in Germany following the Second World War. After graduating from school of arts in Berlin Senta Siller knew that she has found her métier in designing and illustrations. As a designer she worked form exhibitions, fairs, designing children cloths, toys and books illustration and also ran a textile company. She has done masters in Archaeology, Philosophy, Education and doctorate in the history of arts. Civil servant appointed for life she has been given different awards including “bundesverdienstkreuz”- the highest order of merit of Federal Republic of Germany as recognition of her dedicated services to humanity. She is a member of German Society for Advancement of Culture (DGFK). This year, she was nominated for Livelihood Achievement Award that is considered only second to Nobel Prize.

When women’s initiative groups read about Pakistani dolls in the newsletters of DGFK, they invited Dr. Senta Siller to start similar projects and to train women in doll and toy making in Cameroon and Colombia. She started her voluntary work to train multiplictors in both the countries in 1997. The expatriates booked dolls in advance and other support in marketing came form volunteering ladies of the German community in the respective capitals. Presently, Dr. Senta Siller is networking among the women activities in all these countries.

Dolls from Pakistan in authentic attires of the specific tribes, communities and areas tempt tourists and diplomats. They collect these dolls as a souvenir of the time hey spent in Pakistan. “During last seven years, the Pakistani dolls have traveled in suitcases of our client to 40 different countries. They (dolls) sit in the ambassadors’ residences not only in Islamabad, but accompany them to the next and second next posting. I have met TGD dolls in the Japanese ambassadors home in Jakarta and also in the German embassy in Damascus,” tells Dr. Senta Siller with pride and pleasure. “Part of the artists go where ever the dolls go,” says a young artist. Each doll has a small plate attached carrying the name of the doll maker.

Doll making is one of the oldest and popular fold art in Pakistan. Simple stuffed dolls are made for children particularly in rural areas where people are still striving fro the attainment of basic needs. The main difference of previous doll making and the modern techniques taught by Dr. Senta is that she has introduced variety in size and shapes and dresses them in colorful costumes with attentions to details. This has resulted in high quality soft toys to cater to demands of the gift market.

Dr. Senta has not only moved the women of area but also raised a spacious and simple building for the Women Art Center with the help of different donors. She even managed solar energy system -- probably the first in Punjab -- for the Center before the village was connected to national electric grid.

Now there are as many as 120 women from the age of 24 to 40 working in the center, making dolls dressed in regional (Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, Balochi, Kashmiri and Kalash) embroider costumes, miniatures, hand knitted shawls and many more items and earning their living. They are making their own lives better and strengthening their families. “They (the women) are moving towards true equality and independence “ says a doll maker who has twelve year of schooling married in this village and working in the Center Dr. Senta Siller is already planning to expand its working to neighboring villages.

Technical Transfer and Training Center (TTTC) for men has also been established in TGD under the supervision of another German volunteer project director Dr. Norbert Pinstch – an architect who is involved in the project since its inception. The men center has become meeting point of university professors and students who visit here regularly. TTTC is now concentrating on improved agricultural techniques and other suitable jobs for men. Norbert has experience with no less than 133 projects since 1976.

Village TGD is changing. The relative prosperity has beginning to show. Villagers are putting their children, particularly the girls in school. The Woman Art Center is also playing a part in the well being of the villagers. The Center has provided furniture and other equipment to the primary school in village and opened a well equipped health care center. An annual quality of life competition is held in the village when best houses are selected in three different categories.

Dolls made by village women in TGD are not only the most important products but are also our ambassadors. So much is happening in villages. Besides carpenters, blacksmiths and tailors in the village are profitably involved in production for the TTTC for men.

This seems to be one of the unique and best self help project any where in Pakistan.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 10:00 AM,

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