SINCE 2004, Georgia Efford (80) has helped send 73,000 handmade dolls to children in KwaZulu-Natal who are deeply affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Ms Efford’s (80) passion in driving The Uthando Project’s global network from her Gooseberry Hill home has earned her a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to the international community through humanitarian aid.
“The HIV/AIDS pandemic affects the lives of all children, not just orphans, because the parental, family and cultural support around them is missing or fragmented,” she said.
“One in four kids in KwaZulu-Natal have lost one or two parents so it is a large number of children without parents.
“One way we can help these children them feel more secure is to support them in play.”
Ms Efford became involved in the project whilst volunteering for The Hunger Project.
“A psychiatrist friend Julie Stone went to KwaZulu-Natal to visit an African research centre and saw that they had nothing to engage the children with, they were just empty rooms,” she said.
“I had just resigned after 20 years of activism with The Hunger Project and she asked me if I’d like to make dolls for her to take over to the children.
“I was an arts history lecturer at Curtin University which, combined with the extraordinary training I received at The Hunger Project, likely made me seem like just the right person to ask.”
Fast forward 15 years and the grassroots movement is now supported across the globe.
“Over the years I encouraged people, from craft groups to schools to retirement villages, to run doll-making workshops to create dolls for children they will never meet,” she said.
“Over the years we have learnt that the dolls need to be indestructible and that in some cases these dolls are life-saving.
“If you are deeply traumatised and you feel incredibly alone a doll can become something tangible, something to talk to and care for. This is often the first step to healing.”
Ms Efford stepped down last year as CEO of The Uthando Project knowing the organisation was in good hands.
“We have groups everywhere from York to Albany to around the world that make dolls,” she said.
“I’m still a dollmaker and what I love about this project is seeing women of all backgrounds coming together to make the dolls.
“For many the doll-making groups are a source of friendship and connectedness.”