Tsunamika, a Doll of the Tsunami

PONDICHERRY, India (WOMENSENEWS)– When news of a disaster strikes, a group of illiterate Indian women affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami have figured out a way to respond.

They send dolls that they make by hand to victims who might appreciate this message of hope. The dolls are called Tsunamika, after the tsunami.

The women who now number around 200 make the dolls at home during their free time–sometimes as many as 10 a day–and send them to people like themselves, whose lives had been changed forever. "If we can do it, so can you," is the message the women craft into the dolls.

So far over 6 million Tsunamikas have been given to people in over 80 countries around the world, according to Uma Prajapati, a fashion designer who came up with the idea and keeps count as the women get paid for each doll. As an example of one of their big gifts, the project gave 100,000 dolls to survivors of Japan’s tsunami and earthquake of March 2011.

At first Tsunamika ambassadors would volunteer in different countries to help with distribution efforts. But then the Tsunamika became so popular that people began contacting Upasana to request Tsunamikas, which is how the dolls are distributed now.

On Jan. 10, 2015, the doll makers will be celebrating Tsunamika’s 10th birthday in Auroville, India, and invite you to participate in their celebration of hope.

Readers are encouraged to contact the women with an encouraging email or donate money to their cause. (While the dolls are given away, the women receive a small fee of three cents for each doll, funded by a flow of donations.) The doll cannot be purchased; the only person who ever gets her is a victim of some type of disaster or someone feeling hopeless.

The story of these dolls starts on Dec. 26, 2004, when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit and devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across several countries in Asia. In India, the worst hit states were Tamilnadu and here, in Pondicherry.

How Could They Help?

While aid poured in from all parts of the globe as people responded spontaneously to the tragedy, Prajapati and her team at Upasana Design Studio wondered what they could do from their place of safety. They live in Auroville, which means "City of Dawn." It’s a global village, home to 1,700 people from over 35 countries, located in an area of Pondicherry near the Tamilnadu border, a far distance from the damaged villages along the coast.

Fear of the sea had gripped the people in the fishing villages. While most aid organizations and the Indian government concentrated on providing food and shelter, a new fear of the ocean was causing a big risk to people’s livelihoods.

Prajapati and her team decided to teach the affected women a craft. In visits to the villages they wound up conducting doll-making workshops for fisherwomen in the area using rags left over from their garment studio. "We chose housewives to work with," Prajapati says. "They did not have any craft skills, so we decided to start with some very simple items that can bring instant joy and confidence to the women."

Over 474 women from coastal villages in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry took part. After a while, as the healing process slowly took hold and the women discovered that they too had creative ability, some of the women wanted to make a livelihood out of this skill.

Self-Sustaining Project

Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organization with headquarters in Ireland, provided the initial funding for the project, so it could contribute to women’s livelihoods. Since 2006, it has become a self-sustaining project thanks to contributions from individuals, which is a miracle in itself.

For many women, especially illiterate women, the tsunami changed their lives. Many lost their husbands or, even if their husbands were alive, they were scared to go fishing even if it just rained.

Many people provided aid, but the Upasana women taught them a craft. Most of these women have never earned money on their own and so when they did, they were astounded. Their self-confidence began to boom as they found themselves more able to provide for their children.

Tsunamika comes in forms other than dolls. The women also make paper clips, bookmarks, hair clips and other items.

Tsunamika might have profitable potential but Prajapati said the give-away approach is the heart of the project.

"Tsunamika’s success lies in her non-involvement of money in business terms. She is symbol of unconditional giving; she has to take this lead. Humanity needs that free breathing space to survive. Money cannot buy everything . . . neither can it give everything . . . "

For both the doll makers and those who receive them that is certainly true; most have suffered a personal loss that cannot be replaced.