Africa Alive

Let me tell you a story of two young mothers, a lot like yourselves.

Susanna and I met each other through our children, Shanti and Loren. We were looking for like-minded families with whom we could share the fun, the work, the frustrations, the baby sitters. Some little bit of magic sparked, and were suddenly close friends. We raised our babies together, and when it was time to send them to school, we worked with a group of dedicated parents to create the Charlottesville Waldorf School. Babies and brothers came to our families, and our children went to school, played baseball, swam at the pond together. My best memory is meeting at the pond, day after day, summer after summer: we splashed in the water, sat in the shade life guarding, we talked, and brought out the picnic lunches. We even made little nap spots in the shade for the kids afternoon snooze. Shanti and my son Noah went to Senior Prom together.

Life ensued, Susanna went back to school for an MBA, our lives became too full and we saw each other only for special occasions. A few moths ago, Susanna called. I knew her work had taken her into World Health, specifically to Africa, and heard through the grapevine she was at the Curry School at UVA completing a doctorate in Education. She surprised me by telling me one of her classmates had given her my name because I was a local educator interested in the brain development of babies and young children. Our interests had once again aligned! As Susanna described her project to me, I began to see threads of her work and mine weaving together to create something remarkable.

This where, if you choose, you enter the story. You also are young mothers, you also are interested in creating a life of goodness and joy for your children. You also are aware of the larger world. You know, as we did, that our children’s goodness, their joy and abundance of life force is tied directly to the destiny of other children. Twenty five years ago, she and I knew that to give our children what they needed, we had to create something that would serve other children as well. Our tiny beginnings, a class of twelve children in a farm house just 3 miles away from The Rose Garden, became a seed for something much larger. We never imagined that hundreds, and over the years, thousands of children in the Charlottesville area would be touched by the Charlottesville Waldorf School.

The world is suddenly a small place. We know now, in a way Susanna and I could not then, that to care for our children and for the future, it is necessary to care for children half a world away. Yes, it may seem an impossible task. But I believe in both the Grace of God and the Law of Geometric Progression.

Susanna is creating a small devoted organization that works with mothers and their children in the poorest slum in the world, in Nairobi Africa. Yes, there are many NGO’s that focus on the health of poor African mothers and their children. The singular aspect that sets this work apart, is the recognition that at the foundation of all the nutrition, hygiene, mosquito control, and medicine offered to these desperately poor families, is the necessity of the mother-child bond! Susanna’s research shows that children given all of the above who do not have this critical bond, continue to die. And those whose mothers have managed to give love to their children, despite the tragedy of their living conditions, have a much higher survival rate. Yes, we want them to live, but we want more than survival for them. We want goodness and joy.

How can we help? How does this relate to you? How can we, an entire world away, have lasting impact?

If you want to know how, read further. This is a midnight brainstorm I sent Susanna, full of endless questions and promise ; ( and grammatical errors!)

I am excited to see what your response to this might be. Let’s see where this takes us together!

Phase 1

Bonding and attachment:

Susanna is introducing into the 5 essentials of Primary Health Care in Africa, a 6th element. These children need not only 1. enough calories and nutrients 2. mosquito proof bed-nets 3. clean drinking water 4. regular health checks 5. proper medication when necessary. Current brain research shows us that they, and all humans, must have an intimate bond with the mother, not in order to excel, but in order to simply survive. Poor nurturance and bonding with the mother can have devastating effects for an entire life time in terms of physical health, mental health, productivity, longevity and such. This close nurturing bond with the mother is the 6th essential element.

We’ll lovingly call the moms in the States, the Granola Moms.

The granola moms get on board and they make dolls (little simple dolls from the pattern in my book, Heaven on Earth) to send to the African moms in the slums.  I somehow make this happen, with my book, my web-site connections , Waldorf connections etc. Our moms make dolls to send to the African moms, a little bright spot in their babies life. These are families who not only have no toys, these families have nothing, some of them not even a roof over their heads. A beautiful small doll would be miracle in their life. We set up an interactive web-site. The US moms get to see the work, on-line, and stay in contact.  Maybe they pair up with an African mom and baby.  They have a cultural exchange, they are moms together. The granola moms are also learning about the African culture. We are cautious to not impose our “charity”. Our US moms are respectful and inquiring about the African moms cultural heritage. They make donations on-line, and can track the lives of their chosen families.

The African moms are learning about bonding. We are teaching this to them in these ways:

Care-taking (bathing, feeding, diapering etc ) as opportunities to bond with the babies They are talking to their babies as they feed etc, telling them about themselves and the world. Lots of eye- contact, touch  and language etc. They learn and create “lap games” to play with their babies. We know the research about brain development in babies, the necessity of the smiling human face, the kind human voice.

They are also learning how important language is, as a bonding tool.

They are singing traditional songs to the babies, they help the babies bond with their dolls, love their dolls. As they grow into toddlers, the moms are telling traditional tales..  We make sure the tales are power tales for girls, and also for boys.  I know of some African stories, and they will remember their own, I am sure. Through language, they are using the Arts, (stories) not just to bond and educate, but to heal.

The babies and toddlers then imitate this bonding behavior and language. The toddlers sing to their dolls, tell them stories and so forth. They experience the cascading brain chemistry of love….it is being hard-wired into the brain!

Phase 2


The US moms have teamed up with their Africa moms.  They help fund raise (make lots of dolls and sell them at Waldorf bazaar, on the web-site) to send the child or children to school. $100 to educate a girl for one year…wow!

In Africa, we have special afternoon programs when the African high school girls return from school. The girls work on larger dolls which are more formed and wear traditional costumes. These dolls are sold on the web-site for $100 each….each doll educates a girl for one year! The US and world-wide people who buy them understand they are not jut buying a doll, they are buying an education and therefore a life that will affect generations to come. They are buying a symbol.

The girls also learn to make puppets. (more on the boys later)  Simple & hand-sewn, like the dolls.  They make up their own  tales of empowerment , which instruct girls that there is more to life than having endless babies that die from malnutrition and unsanitary conditions: there is education, and eventually leadership and entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as marriage and family.  They develop this into a puppet play, or several.  Then they go out into the schools and other slums and offer their puppet play to other school girls and to other slum families.  We get the local African high school girls to come and work with our younger African girls, as community service? Our young girls get to see how an older peer of theirs has made the leap out of poverty and into a new life. We get the slum moms and the high school girls together to work on this puppet play outreach project.

The boys get teamed up with some of the high school boys and they do leadership, teamwork, bonding sorts of things.  Maybe the high school boys do work projects with the boys…something about improving drinking water, or helping with better roofs.  All of this will take funding, but that stage comes later.

Can you see the ripple-effect? The geometric progression of love and bonding, breaking the chains of poverty, over-population, and violence?

Here is an outline:

I. Dolls in slums:

a. Local Community Health Workers bring the dolls, made by the “granola moms” in the US, on the home visits. They are already engaged in bringing the five elements of primary health care, and now they bring the 6th, that of the necessity of the mother-child bond. The dolls are given to the children as a gift.

b. The mothers are helped to understand that the doll serves as a tangible reminder of this 6th element. She understands the doll at its symbolic level.

c. The child receives the nurturing bond with the mother, and also has the opportunity to imitate this nurturing activity with the doll. The child experiences love and nurturance both receptively with the mother and actively, with the doll.

d. Whole brain learning takes place. New neural pathways are formed; the child is shaped in love and nurturance.

II. High School girls

a. The group of African High School girls are taught to make dolls. These dolls are larger, more formed, and are dressed in local and tribal clothing. The girls form a dollmaking group, they work on them together and keep a stock of them.

b. They are sold on the Africa Alive web-site, which is interactive and US people can make a connection to individual girls. Funds go to the specific girl’s educational needs.

c. Sold also at high-end, high-dollar dinners to raise funds for operations.

d. Sold also at Waldorf Bazaars, at 10,000 Villages and so forth, for their education.

e. A fund is established to pass the gift on to other girls wanting higher education.

III. Slum moms and high school girls

a. The slum mothers and the high school girls groups work together. They are helped to understand the power of the word and the power of images. They create a story or stories, in which the girls and women characters are empowered to make sound choices in their lives. They also portray the men supporting these decisions!

b. They create a puppet play, making the dolls/puppets, the simple staging and so forth. They use their own cultural images and story telling modes.

c. They bring this artistic work to the elementary level schools, in hopes of inspiring younger girls to continue their education.

d. They bring this to other slum villages, to bring hope and inspiration to other slum mothers and children.

IV. The idea catches on

a. Our organization sends materials to the slum moms and high school girls: old sweaters, needles, thread, stuffing and so forth.

b. Doll-making cottage industries grow up: women’s collectives. Soon they can buy their own materials.

c. They branch out and make other toys, maybe animals: farm animals and their own native animals.

d. They sell them through other NGOs charities etc. Our administrator helps them find markets.

e. They now have a source of income to feed and educate their children.