Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Darfur: Designer rag dolls for Darfur

By Alecia D. McKenzie - IPS

Designer Doll by Giorgio Armani.
Credit:Jean-Francois Aloisi

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
http://www.ipsnewsasia.net/ and http://www.ipsnews.net/

PARIS, Nov 9 (IPS) - Designer rag dolls, the concept couldn’t sound more frivolous. But dolls made by top fashion designers such as Armani and Prada are helping to fund a vaccination programme in war-torn Darfur.

From small beginnings six years ago, the "Frimousses de Créateurs" (Designers’ Dolls) project has grown to include about a hundred designers as well as prominent artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, who are known for their provocative and controversial artwork.

Entertainers, too, have joined the cast, with French singer France Gall and outspoken actress Isabelle Adjani making dolls out of fabric and decorating them in their own fashion.

Last year, the doll project, coordinated by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), financed polio vaccinations for more than 160,000 children and tuberculosis shots for 183,000 newborns in Darfur, a conflict-ridden region of Sudan.

The organisation estimates that more than 2 million children under the age of 18 have been affected by the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, a consequence of the on-going conflict that began there in 2003. Thousands of civilians have been killed and women raped in the war, among other atrocities.

"As an artist, as a creator, I have a role to play, a posture to achieve," French designer Sonia Rykiel told IPS in an e-mail interview. "An artist needs to be close to what’s happening around him: in politics, sociology, ecology. I try to get as much involved as I can into the world I live in. I cannot just create and turn my back on world issues."

The dolls will be on public display at the Petit Palais fine arts museum in Paris from Nov. 10 to 15. They will then be sold by auction house Drouot Montaigne on Nov. 19, a day before the 20th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The most expensive doll auctioned so far was designed by Chanel and raised 23,000 euros, UNICEF told IPS. That sum contributed to the total of 227,000 euros raised in 2008 - a nearly six-fold increase since 2003.

"From a very small start, we’ve now convinced the major designers to take part," says Magali Riedel, head of the project and a long-term volunteer with UNICEF. "We pushed and worked hard for this to happen because the lives of tens of thousands of children are at stake."

Despite the economic crisis, the amount gained could be even greater this year because of the higher number of participants and corporate sponsors - who cover the operating costs of the project. UNICEF says it expects to inoculate at least 260,000 infants in 2010 as well as 195,000 pregnant women who will receive anti-tetanus vaccines.

Earlier this year the Sudanese government expelled several humanitarian groups after the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed war-crime charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The French section of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) was one of the groups expelled in March, and a spokesperson said vaccinations had been part of their work as it was "important in every context".

Dr. Anne Loarec, who worked as an MSF field coordinator in Darfur, told IPS that the group focused on providing anti-tetanus shots for women of child- bearing age, as well as vaccinating children under five against polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

"We know that certain diseases that could be prevented by vaccines have a very high mortality rate," Loarec said. "With tetanus, for instance, 70 percent of the cases are dying, so you can see the importance of providing access to vaccination and other medical services."

Some of the designers who take part in Frimousses de Créateurs see the project as a way to show that fashion is relevant and can even effect social change.

French-based African designer Mariétou Mariette Dicko said she supported UNICEF because she had worked for the organisation in Mali and understood what was needed for projects in Africa.

"I know that they have to collect funds here and give to other areas in need - in Africa, Asia and Latin America," she told IPS. "That’s why I’m happy to be involved." Since 2004, fashion magazines have focused on her dolls because of the colourful fabric and "definitively" African style.

The "Frimousse" project does not stop with designers, however. To help fund vaccinations in other countries besides Sudan, thousands of schoolchildren in France take part in a similar but separate venture. They make rag dolls which are then sold to adults for 20 euros each. This amount is enough for a full cycle of childhood vaccinations, says Valerie Metzger, a UNICEF projects coordinator who started the scheme in France, following a similar venture in Italy known as "Pigotta".

Metzger says UNICEF provides the body of the doll, and the children bring in bits of fabric, old clothing and other material to create costumes. Before they start, they are told about children’s rights and some of the problems still facing children worldwide. They learn, for instance, that 50 million children are not registered at birth and that some two million die each year because of lack of essential vaccinations.

Like the fashion designers, the students learn that they can help to save lives. Sales of their "frimousses" have funded the vaccination of more than 10,000 children in the past five years, Metzger said.

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