Talin Dolls

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Project engages Talin women in handicraft manufacture

by Erica Vendetti

Making of traditional dolls in Talin.

Yerevan - It is not uncommon in Armenia that on a warm early autumn day, adults are gathered together, chattering happily while the children sit on the floor playing with assorted toys- smiling and laughing. Two children are making car noises; others toss a ball back and forth, while one sits quietly creating imaginary lives for her inanimate friends. But, look closely and you will notice something different.

Unlike most social gatherings where the women are busy preparing coffee and tasty foods, these women are busy making crocheted dolls wearing ancient Armenian costumes. For now, a lone prototype doll and I sit, marveling at the courageous ambitions of these women. Their energy makes the dolls feel just as alive as the bustling town five-stories below.

Talin, a town located in Aragatsotn Marz with an estimated 5,700 people, has always been at a crossroad. Here, six women come together to create collectable dolls uniting the past, present, and future of Armenia. Talin, like the rest of Armenia, is no exception to the existing economic and social difficulties- it too was once a thriving hub, full of promise for skilled electrical, dairy, and textile workers. For families in Talin, the lure of employment for both men and women was once strong. But now, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and closure of many factories, these opportunities are now limited to the most skilled laborers.

Women in Armenia work mostly at home, serving as the glue in a strong family tradition as a mother, wife, and homemaker. But, as the global economy continues to struggle, so too do the families of Armenia. Here, the need for multiple income families has grown without an increase in job availability. Recently, I spoke with a former resident who carried great affection in his heart for Talin, but like many others, had moved away for work. "I want to move back," he says, "but there is no work available for my family and I." But, for those working with Talin Dolls, this reality is changing.

Talin Dolls, like the work of so many other great endeavors, is the result of international friendship. When Brian Bokhart, current United States Peace Corps volunteer, connected Gayane Khachatryan, a local Armenian woman, with Sir Timothy Straight, the honorary consul for Norway and Finland in Armenia and founder of Homeland Handicrafts, no one expected a mere six months later that Talin Dolls would be a product highly demanded in the market. Just as each stitch brings the collectable doll to life, the sum of these individuals created a vessel for Talin Dolls to achieve its goals- the Talin Women's Resource Center Development Foundation (TWRC).

TWRC's work with Talin Dolls is two-fold. They strive to create jobs for women through the sale of exquisitely hand-crocheted dolls wearing traditional Armenian clothing, and with the use of profits generated create a disabled children's resource center in the region. This new center seeks to identify disabled children and address their needs by providing information for parents, training to medical staff, physiotherapy and create a new support community for families of special needs children.

In addition to giving a fuller life for the children and families of disabled individuals in the Talin region, TWRC also strives to bridge the information gap among women on issues like health, dietary and rights issues for themselves, their families, and children. TWRC and Talin Dolls represents the combined efforts of different organizations and people coming together to pool resources and experience, and mix ambition and hope to create something new in order to positively affect the future of women and children in Talin.

Being one of the new volunteers in the region, I have lost track of how many people have told me about their hopes for Armenia, their dreams for their family and themselves. All of this is said with the great passion and hospitality that comes with what it means to be Armenian. It is hard not to get swept up in the passion of these exceptional people's desire to help their families, communities, and country. But the reality in regions far from Yerevan often means limited resources and a lack of information among various networks, especially those for children with special needs. Unfortunately, this often means many families are left alone to face the challenges of everyday living. Still, despite obstacles generated by complex business and political inter-workings, Bokhart, Khachatryan, and Straight remain steadfast in their commitment and make this project succeed.

Currently, collectable dolls have been designed for ten ancient communities- Moush, Sasoun, Trabizon, Vaspourakan, Karin (Erzroum), Zeytoun, Sebastia, Khotorjour, Artsakh and Van. While the dolls themselves are collectors' items for people of Armenian decent to reconnect to the lost regions of Armenia, for the artisans, the dolls provide much more. They offer skilled women the opportunity to provide stable funding for their families. By selling only ten dolls, a woman can afford the monthly utility payments for her home. By selling upwards of twenty dolls, a woman can afford an entire month's food for a family of four. With the income from Talin Dolls, TWRC will be able to help disabled children and their families who often struggle in private to provide better care for their loved ones. With the success of the Talin Doll project, TWRC hopes to also hire a regular driver to connect more children from the surrounding communities with the resource center.

Today, the women of Talin work to transfer love of country, community, and family into each of the finished Armenian dolls. Through the Indiegogo campaign (hyperlink) for Talin Dolls, the women hope to expand their collection through requests for Armenian districts not yet represented among the original ten. The possibilities are endless for this budding project. No sooner had Straight left Talin with the first 10 collectables, than someone approached him in a Yerevan cafe to purchase a doll before official photographs, let alone sales, had started. The women working with the Talin Dolls project embody the true spirit of Armenia-- where, despite a difficult past and an uncertain future, the permeating message of these people is one of hope, family, and positivity about the direction of both their project and country.

Bokhart, Khachatryan, and Straight have done something very special for Talin. Not only have they created a community for women, where many only know each other only by name, occupation, or children, but they have also tapped into the pride of the Armenian people- allowing women to renew their hopes and aspirations to merge traditional values with the reality of a never ending list of family needs. Each time a doll is created it renews a much needed sense of accomplishment in these women. Talin Dolls' future is in the hands of everyone- from the local Armenian, the diaspora population, to other concerned citizens of the world. Helping the women of Talin Dolls and TWRC reminds the people of Armenia about the sincere concern and interest the international community has for this vibrant and hospitable country.

The women of TWRC are working tirelessly to complete all orders for mailing by December 1, with the plans for all dolls to arrive to their new homes by Christmas. The women of Talin look forward to hearing from you with orders for existing dolls and copies of family photos providing inspiration for new collectors models.

For more information regarding the project, women, how to purchase a doll, and how your purchase helps, please visit: http://www.TalinDolls.com

http://www.reporter.am/go/article/2012-09-22-project-engages-talin-women-in-handicraft-manufacture- Published: Saturday September 22, 2012

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