For many of us in the Fisher Heights Arts and Crafts Circle, our first awareness of Izzy Dolls came because they were being made by our dear friend Ruth Wilson, who said that every doll she made gave her great pleasure and a sense of purpose.
When Shirley O’Connell, national coordinator for the Izzy Doll program, was our guest last month, she came to present a certificate of appreciation to Ruth for her contribution of more than 100 of the dolls to the program. Shirley came with a full exhibit to illustrate the way Izzy Dolls have become a remarkable globally-distributed emblem of our striving toward a more a peaceful and compassionate world.
The story she told, as written by Phyllis Wheaton in her book “In the Mood for Peace,” begins with Mark Isfeld – the Canadian soldier for whom the dolls are named – and an incident in Croatia, when Mark, serving as a UN Peacekeeper, stopped his truck close to a house that had been reduced to rubble in the conflict. Mark noticed a doll that “resembled the body of a tiny toddler face down in the debris. In the background stood the unrecognizable wreckage of a home. Perhaps it was the house where the doll’s owner had lived and, in the family’s frantic escape, was left behind.”
Mark took a picture of the scene and his mother Carol said: “For Mark, it would be more than a picture, it would be a statement of the sacrifice forced upon the children of war.” Carol was moved by her son’s compassion and said she had to do something to help the children and bring peace to her son’s mind.
Soon after, Mark received a package of 21 little dolls knitted from scraps of brightly coloured yarn – little boys with blue berets and little girls with pigtails.
“Just as his mother had hoped, Mark carried a doll in his uniform pocket. Whenever he met a child he gave the gift of the doll and watched what happened next. First the child’s eyes lit up, then a smile formed. As they exchanged friendly grins, their mistrust for this Peacekeeper disappeared”
From that beginning, and from the wish of his family to honour Mark following his death in service in 1994, “Carol busied her hands making Izzy Dolls and giving interviews. The story of the Izzy Doll charmed the public and more crafters revelled in the idea of using their talents to create dolls that would bring comfort to a child in need. Carol referred to the knitters as her angels.”
Brian, Mark’s father, described “hundreds of women with time on their hands – mostly elderly and most of them mothers – making these ‘Izzy Dolls’ to send to soldiers for distribution to kids…and watching them regain interest, energy, and enthusiasm to help others – a rebirth of energy.”
Since then, an extraordinary outpouring of support and assistance from many individuals and organizations has resulted in more than 1.3 million Izzy Dolls being distributed to children in war zones and in the aftermath of natural disasters around the world.
Before she died, Carol entrusted the Izzy Doll legacy to Shirley O’Connell, who continued to rally women together. “Her regular newsletters inspired members of the Order of the Eastern Star. She organized pickups of large batches of dolls from church groups, schools, senior centres, women’s organizations, and knitting clubs. After sorting and packaging, the dolls are delivered to her Canadian military contact and to charities that include the International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering (ICROSS Canada); Health Partners International Canada; ORBIS, the flying team of childrens’ eye surgeons; Child Haven International Canada; and even some Shriner childrens’ hospitals.”
Many times each month she also answers requests from groups like ours to tell this story, to encourage more knitters to participate in the effort. “We can always use more Izzy Dolls”, she says. Rising from tragedy and grief, it’s altogether the story of an unbroken circle of human compassion and love carried around the world in the form of beautiful, hand-made, soft little dolls.
Our Arts and Crafts Circle meets every Monday morning from 9:45 to 11:45 at the Fisher Heights Community Place, 31 Sutton Place in Nepean. You are most welcome to join us. For further information, contact Vi Macnaughton, 613-224-8527. Shirley O’Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.