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Blessed and Botswana Bound

In Botswana, Juli Hauser found a place big enough to accommodate her dream.

It was in 2007 that Juli, a retired teacher and member of Church of the Holy Comforter in Burlington, heard about Duduza (“comfort”) dolls. It seems women in the Diocese of Vermont had organized a project where knitters were invited to use a pattern to create the dolls, which were then distributed to children affected by HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, Namibia and South Africa.

Captivated by the idea of children receiving these “bridges of love,” Juli, a self-described novice knitter, took the idea to idea to Holy Comforter’s St. Martha’s Guild, a group within the Episcopal Church Women of the parish that had experience knitting prayer shawls and the like.

A few women signed on for the initial effort, and though they grew more proficient in the making of the comfort dolls, distribution remained limited. Then came word through the ECW of the Diocese of North Carolina’s relationship with the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, and the role women’s ministries would play in the new companion link. It was, says Juli, an answer to prayers that the dolls would find a home with children who really needed and wanted them.

In November of 2008, while at the Annual Meeting of the ECW of the diocese, Juli spoke with the event’s special guests: Florence Bogopa, president of the Anglican Women’s Fellowship in Botswana, and Colleen Segokgo, president of the Diocese of Botswana’s Mother’s Union. That conversation confirmed the dolls would be welcome in Botswana. A few weeks later, 50 Duduza dolls were on their way to a center run by the Mother’s Union for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.

More people joined in the doll-making, often using yarn donated to St. Martha’s Guild. It takes, on average, about two and a half to three hours to knit one doll. “I do this at home white watching TV,” explains Juli. She and others also pray for the children who’ll be receiving a doll.

The knitting and praying can’t happen fast enough. To date this year, 25 comfort dolls have been made for children in the Diocese of Renk in Sudan, where until recently, the Rev. Lauren Stanley, an Episcopal missionary supported by the ECW of the Winston-Salem Convocation, was based. Juli’s daughter, a physician’s assistant and lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq in the first half of 2009, asked her to send dolls for the children brought to the hospital with grievous injuries suffered as a result of the war. And then there were the 100 dolls for St. Peter’s Day Care Centre in Botswana.

Located just outside the capital city, Gaborone, St. Peter’s is for AIDS orphans as well as street kids and other vulnerable children. On the last Sunday in May, while at Holy Comforter for a festive morning of baptisms and confirmations, Bishop Michael Curry also blessed a number of gifts to and from the church, including an array of dolls, each as unique as the child to whom it would be given. He prayed:

O Lord, you have given us the gift of talents and artistry to make beautiful and functional things with our hands and our heart. May these Duduza dolls made by the loving hands of people of St. Martha’s Guild become likenesses of your love and comfort for the frightened, lost, and needy children of Botswana through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Soon thereafter, in a shipment again coordinated by the diocesan ECW, the dolls were boxed up and bound for Botswana, and the women of Holy Comforter returned to their knitting.