Volunteers knit dolls that travel as packing – and comfort – with donated medical supplies to Kenya: By Sorcha McGinnis, a Times Colonist Staff Writer

Dolls Ease The PainThe Willbonds don’t think much of bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts. Dolls are their packing material of choice.

To HIV-AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Victoria-made Maasai dolls are pocket-sized comfort that help the kids cope with the virus. A Victoria family has shipped nearly three tonnes of medical supplies to Nairobi to treat terminally ill patients — not a single glass vial cushioned by the tiny dolls has been broken.

William Willbond and his wile Lynne returned from Africa last week where they delivered pain killers, antibiotics, ointments, glass containers, a solar stove – and hundreds of woollen dolls – to orphanages, hospitals, schools, and women’s groups in Kenya. If it hadn’t been for charitable airline officials in London, the Saanichton couple say their 616 kilograms of luggage never would have left the ground.

During the month-long trip, the Will-bonds distributed the red caped, fuzzy haired dolls named for the Maasai nomadic people to places like Kajiado, Kisumu, Siaya, Bondo, and the Ngong Hills.

Dolls Ease The Pain“Our stop at the Rondo Orphanage was an eye-opener,” said Willbond, a Central Saanich Police communicator, “I was busy putting a doll into every crib lining the hallways and little hands reached out to hug the dolls to their chests – smiles were wide and eyes were filled with joy.”

Though many of the children are dying, the Willbonds say they are clean, well cared for, and loved by the Sisters of St. Anne, a Franciscan order of African nuns. When a child dies, he or she is buried with their doll.

Willbond is chairman of the Canadian arm of the International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering (ICROSS). He got involved with the organization in 1998 when, as administration officer for the Canadian Peace Keeping Veterans Association, Willbond travelled to Nairobi to lay a wreath for peacekeepers that died in the Congo. On that first trip, Willbond heard stories about AIDS victims in Kenya who have no health care facilities: Willbond was stunned.

He immediately decided that he and his family would collect some of Canada’s excess medical supplies and ship them through ICROSS.

“Half an aspirin will give a dying child a good night’s sleep,” explained Willbond, “The Vaseline is for ulcers, so that weeping sores won’t stick to the sheets.”

The Willbonds and their four grown daughters, Sandra Anne, Mary, Paula, and Bridey, have sent dozens of boxes to Africa at their own expense. The Willbond women, of whom all but Sandra Anne are nurses, scrounge up whatever medical supplies hospitals can’t use after a sterile package has been opened – dressings, drop sheets, ointments, and rubber gloves. Bridey works on the receiving end – in Nairobi — where she is working on a PhD in public health.

Friends and neighbours also help.

“Every time I go outside, there’s a box on the doorstep with a package from Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous,” said Willbond.

Sandra Anne Bast leads a large group of senior citizen volunteers in Victoria who knit the dolls. She got the pattern from Card and Brian Isfeld, a Courtenay couple who crafted dolls with blue berets for son MCpl Mark Isfeld to distribute on his peacekeeping tours. The younger Isfeld was killed removing landmines in Croatia in 1994, but Izzy Dolls are still carried in Canadian soldiers’ pockets and handed to children in war-torn areas. Brian Isfeld is delighted by the Izzy spin-off. “It’s a very unique end to the legacy Mark left behind,” he said.

More people have died of AIDS that all the wars of the.20th Century. Everyday 11,000 people die of HIV-related illness in sub Saharan Africa. Willbond says in many Western Kenya villages, the coffin shop is the busiest business.

The Willbonds would appreciate contributions of opened or un-opened use medicine and medical supplies. Contact Will or Lynne Willbond by email at They will pick up and transport anything donated.