The cluster of mud and brick houses in the plains of Punjab, Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka (TGD) looks like a typical Pakistani village about 80 kilometre away from Lahore and 40 kilometres from Indus civilization ruins in Harappa. There is no gas or telephone in the village. No metalled road leads to it. Even the electricity is a recent phenomenon. Yet it is different; the beautiful dolls and other handicrafts made here by the village women are collectors’ delight all over the world. Influences from Indus civilization from Harappa and modern techniques brought by the German volunteer Dr. Senta Siller can be seen in the village together.
They dolls made in the village are on display in International Doll Museum in Iceland, prestigious galleries and show rooms 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 for 21st 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 Pakistani studying in Germany, Amjad Ali who is a native of village TGD invited his German teacher Dr. Senta Siller to visit his village back home. Dr. Senta Siller (and Dr. Norbert Pintsch) 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, and started community-based Women Art Centre in TGD in 1992. “The aim of this centre is,” says Dr. Senta Siller, “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 manufacture dolls and toys on self-help basis 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: designing and illustrations. As a designer, she has worked for exhibitions, fairs, children’s 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 says, “TGD is my village now. I am returning to humanity what I got throughout my life”.
When women’s initiative groups in other countries read about Pakistani dolls 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 from 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 visitors, tourists, and diplomats. They collect these dolls as a souvenir of the time they spent in Pakistan. During last six years, the Pakistani dolls went in suitcases of our client to 40 different countries. They sit in the Ambassadors’ residences not only in Islamabad, but accompany them to the next and second next postings. I met TGD dolls in the Japanese ambassador’s home in Jakarta and also in the German embassy in Damascus,” tells Dr. Senta Siller with pride and pleasure. “Part of the artists goes 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 folk art in Pakistan. Simple stuffed dolls are made for children, particularly in rural areas where people are still striving for the attainment of basic needs. The main difference of previous doll making and the modern techniques taught by Dr. Senta Siller is that she has introduced variety in size and shapes and dressed them in colourful costumes with attentions to details. This has resulted in high quality soft toys to cater to demands of the gift market.
Dr. Senta Siller has not only moved the women of the area but also raised a spacious and simple building for the Women Art Centre with the help of a foreign embassy. She even managed Solar Energy System – probably the first in Punjab – for the centre with the assistance of another embassy. The village was given electric connection in March 2000. Now there are as many as 120 women – from the age of 24 to 40 – working in the centre, making dolls dressed in regional (Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, Balochi, Kashmiri and Kalash) embroidered costumes, miniatures, hand knitted shawls and many more items and earning their living. All the income from sale of dolls and toys is distributed among the women making them. 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 centre. Dr. Senta Siller is already planning to expand its working to neighbouring villages.
Technical Transfer and Training Centre (TTTC) for men has also been established in TGD under the supervision of another volunteer Project Director Dr. Norbert Pintsch. TTTC is concentrating on improved agricultural techniques and other suitable jobs for men. Besides teaching technical skills, main focus of TTTC is on introduction of modern agricultural techniques in the village.
Village TGD is changing in the process. The relative prosperity has beginning to show. Villagers are putting their children, particularly the girls in school. The Woman Art Centre is also playing a part in the well being of the village. The centre has provided furniture and other equipment to the primary school in village and opened a well-equipped Health Care Centre. Dr Senta Siller says, “one only has to come to the village to see the change. It just can not be expressed in words or shown in images.”
An annual Quality of Life competition is held in the village when best houses are selected in three different categories. The Chief Explorer from Harappa Dr. Mark Kenoyar had places in the jury for the competition held last year. Beautiful tradition that has matured in the tranquil hamlet is that every newly married couple is presented a fruit tree whereas parents of every newborn get flower tree by the NGO. Result: one can see blooming bougainvillea creepers and fruit trees in courtyards of each house. Murals are painted on the parameters wall and large mud containers for grain. And, each house has a guest room for visitors who come here and stay as paying guests in homely atmosphere.
In addition to raised income, increased awareness, enhanced opportunities, peace and security, participation and sustainable future help to defeat poverty. TGD has a primary school for girls. The first girl named Shazia who was allowed to go to higher secondary school in a nearby town was gifted a lady bicycle by the Woman Art Centre. The girls of the village taught Shazia how to ride and came to see her off on the first day of her school that is situated about four Kilometres from TGD. It was a very sentimental occasion.
Dr Senta Siller says that she has never faced language problem with womenfolk in the village. “I use body language and they (the women) have already started understanding my smile even. They have so much untapped talent and I want to do so much for them,” she adds.
Improving livelihoods enhances women’s self esteem, their confidence, and their power to make decisions and their position in the family. The women and their families benefit, and their communities prosper.