What is it that makes some individuals look at their obstacles and rise up to overcome them? Where does this can-do attitude come from? I watched this video several weeks ago, and was so moved by Alissa Sizemore and her I’m-so-happy-just-watch-me spirit, that I made a doll for her.
Malala Yousafzai was born on 12 July 1997, in a valley in northwestern Pakistan. She lived with her parents, two younger brothers and two pet chickens. Her parents owned a chain of private schools and Malala was educated by her father, an educational activist.
In 2009, when Malala was 12 years old, she agreed to write a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC describing her life under the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement that was trying to take control of the valley (the Taliban are condemned for their brutal treatment of women). Malala and other girls were at times banned from attending school. She became increasingly outspoken and prominent in her views of girls’ right to education. Meanwhile, members of the Taliban began destroying schools in her area.
A journalist made a documentary about Malala in her home, and following several interviews, she began to gain international recognition and awards for her advocacy. She and her father began to receive death threats, but this did not stop them from continuing to advocate for education for girls.
In October 2012, a Taliban gunman, on the orders from Taliban leaders, boarded her school bus and fired at Malala three times. One bullet entered her head. She was rushed to the hospital and operated on to remove the bullet. She was then taken to a hospital in Germany and thereafter, to a hospital in the UK for rehabilitation.
The assassination attempt sparked a world-wide outpouring of support for Malala. It galvanized a UN petition in Yousafzai’s name, demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015; it helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.
Malala recovered fully from the wound, and continued her work in advocating for education for girls and children in poverty around the world. In 2014, Malala shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Kailash Satyarthi, for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Yousafzai was 17 years old at the time, becoming the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.
Jane Goodall was born in 1934 in London, England. When she was a child, her father gave her a chimpanzee toy named Jubilee, which is still with her today. Her fondness for the toy started her early love of animals.
Goodall’s fascination for animals and Africa led to her visiting a friend in the Kenya highlands in 1957. Her friend suggested that she contact Louis Leakey, a Kenyan archaeologist and palaeontologist, to discuss animals. Leakey at this time was considering possible similarities between existing great apes and the behaviour of early hominids. He initially proposed that Goodall work for him as a secretary, but eventually sent Goodall to Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where Goodall learned of his real plans for her to become a chimpanzee researcher.
In 1958, Leakey sent Goodall to London to study primate behaviour with Osman Hill and primate anatomy with John Napier. A few years later, Leakey raised funds to send Goodall to Gombe Stream National Park to study the primates. She was accompanied by her mother.
Leakey arranged for more funding and in 1962, he sent Goodall to Cambridge University where she obtained a PhD degree in ethology. (She became only the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD there without an undergraduate degree.) Her thesis was completed in 1965, titled “Behaviour of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee”, detailing her first five years of study at the Gombe Reserve.
Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall has studied wild chimpanzees for 55 years in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the Roots & Shoots program, and she has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.
The Jane Goodall doll is posted on Ebay, available for bidding.
Joanne Rowling, OBE FRSL is best known for writing the Harry Potter series under the pen name of J.K. Rowling. She was born in Yate, Gloucestershire (U.K.) July 31, 1965. As a nine year-old, she often wrote fantasy stories which she read to her younger sister. She attended St. Michael’s primary school, where the headmaster may have been the inspiration for the character Albus Dumbledore.
Later, she attended Wyedean high school. A teacher there recalls Rowling to be “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English”. Around this time, her great-aunt gave her a copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling’s heroine, and Rowling read all of her books.
Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven. Rowling has admitted that her teenage years were unhappy. Her home life was complicated by her mother’s illness and a strained relationship with her father. She studied French and Classics at University of Exeter, and graduated in 1986.
In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind.
The death of her mother who had been ill with multiple schlerosis deeply affected Rowling’s writing, instilling more emotional details for the character Harry. Rowling would then move to Portugal to teach English, marry, give birth to a daughter, divorce her husband, and move to Edinburgh with her child to live with her sister. During this time, she suffered from depression, an experience which helped her describe the Dementors. It was while she was living in Edinburgh, a single mother on welfare, that she completed her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Twelve publishers rejected her submission, before it was accepted and published by Bloomsbury in 1997, seven years after she first started writing the story about an 11 year old boy wizard.
All the books in the Harry Potter series have gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide.
As of May 2015, the books have won multiple awards and sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, making the series the best-selling book series in history, and have been translated into 73 languages. They have become the basis for a series of films, the second highest-grossing film series in history.
The J.K. Rowling doll is posted on Ebay, available for bidding.
Waris Dirie was born into a nomadic family in 1965 in Galkayo, Somalia. When she was thirteen, she ran away to Mogadishu, traveling across the desert by foot, to escape an arranged marriage to a man in his 60’s. There, she stayed briefly with an older sister and her family. Waris along with a few relatives later moved to London, where she lived with and worked for an uncle who had been appointed Somali ambassador. When his term in office ended, Waris remained in the city and held a job at McDonald’s. She also began evening classes to learn English.
By chance, she was discovered by a photographer who helped her get her first modelling job, which eventually led to a successful modelling career. In 1997, she spoke for the first time about the female genital mutilation ( FGM) she underwent at the age of five, along with her two sisters. She left her modelling career to focus on her campaign against FGM. In 2002, she founded the Desert Flower Foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of FGM and in 2009, she established the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights.
In 1998, Waris wrote Desert Flower, an autobiography that became an international bestseller, and has since written other successful books. In 2009, a film based on Desert Flower was released.
The Waris Dirie doll is posted on Ebay, available for bidding.
Roberta Bondar is Canada’s first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space.
She was born in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada on December 4, 1945. As a child, science was her favourite subject and she loved the yearly science fairs at school. She was known to set off experiments in her parents’ basement.
After graduating from high school, she went on to study zoology and agriculture in university. She continued and completed her studies for a Masters degree in Pathology, a Doctor of Philosophy in neuroscience and a Doctor of Medicine.
Bondar began astronaut training in 1984 and flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery during Mission STS-42 in 1992. She performed experiments in the Spacelab.
For her work, she has received many honours including the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the NASA Space Medal, and over 22 honorary degrees.
“To fly in space is to see the reality of Earth, alone. The experience changed my life and my attitude toward life itself. I am one of the lucky ones.” ~ Roberta Bondar
“I thought my life was mapped out. Research, living in the forest, teaching and writing. But in ’86 I went to a conference and realised the chimpanzees were disappearing. I had worldwide recognition and a gift of communication. I had to use them. ” ~Jane Goodall
” If you can survive in the desert, you survive anywhere. I know more than anything life in desert. You can tell by looking at the dirt how long ago it rained, how hard it rained, how much water came through. You can (know) by looking at a plant, a tree, from an animal’s look. I can read the desert like I read my hand.” ~Waris Dirie
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” – J.K. Rowling
“We must tell girls their voices are important.” ~Malala Yousafzai
What inspiring person would you like to imagine as a doll?
After 8 years of making softies with children’s drawings, I felt it was time to stretch out a bit, and try another craft or two. I saw Sonia Singh’s work several months ago, and ever since, I’ve been itching to have a go at it myself. I have to say that it has been a welcome change, surprisingly fun and satisfying work to refurbish Bratz dolls and give them new personalities.
Each of the pre-owned Bratz dolls has been washed with hot water and soap. A few dolls who’d encountered a child wielding a permanent marker, now own a “beauty mark” or “tattoo”. Brushing their hair and dressing them in their new clothes bring back memories of forgotten childhood play. I enjoy designing their clothes and knitting their little tops, and I like seeing their personalities emerge as I paint their faces.
There are many How-to videos online – including some by Sonja – showing the various processes of repainting and revamping dolls.
Wendy Tsao can be reached at email@example.com