An entrepreneurial Pakistan is not a dream: Thatta Khedona shows you how it’s done

Published: June 14, 2014
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The local girls with Ms Senta Siller. She is holding the dolls that have been featured in many worldwide festivals and museums and have won many local and international accolades. Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

Imagine a village in Pakistan that has garnered international acclaim but still remains unknown to 99.9% of the Pakistani population. This village is called Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka (TGD), which I am sure many of you have never even heard of. 

TGD is located 30 kilometres outside Okara and is situated on the Okara-Faisalabad road. Before 1992, this was like any other poor village in Punjab, lacking resources and infrastructure. However, a couple of events completely changed the fate of this desolate settlement.

Amjad Ali, a local resident of TGD, whilst studying in Germany, invited his German teacher Dr Senta Siller to visit the village. This was the first time Dr Siller was visited and this is how she unfolds her experience,

“It all started with an invitation for a cup of tea. My husband and I were invited by a former student, who was trained in my school in Germany to be a graphic designer, to see his village where he was born and to have a cup of tea with his grandmother. So, we went there to have a harmless cup of tea.

(When we got there) I was shocked; so shocked to see the poverty of the people that on the way out of the village I said to my husband,

‘I will never come back to such a village. It is so depressing that so many people live in places full of dirt, lice and scabies, and individually, one can’t do anything for them’.

To which he replied:

‘But didn’t you see the traditional mud structures? They are beautiful! We have to come back and make a movie on the daily lives of these farmers because it might all be gone in the next 10 years’.

We visited the village half-a-year later, to begin shooting. During my four days there, I got more involved in the village’s problems. These village women showed me a very ancient doll which was, unfortunately, half eaten up by a dog and when I asked who made it, they replied,

‘Nobody did; this is the work of our great grandmothers and now this tradition is old.’

To which I replied:

‘If your great grandmothers could make such a lovely doll, then you can do much better’.”

Realising the potential this village had, Dr Siller decided to motivate these people to make new dolls and took the project under her wing. Along with Dr Norbert Pinstch, she established an NGO called Anjumane-e-Falah-e-Aama and a community known as the Women Art Centre in TGD in 1992.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

Thatta Khedona (village of toys) is the brand name for these handmade quality dolls, donned in colourful attires, representing traditional clothes from all over Pakistan including Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Kashmir and even the Kalash Valley.

Each doll comes with embroidered costumes and cards, miniature hand knitted shawls, tin rickshaws, tin toys and eye catching pendants. Other accessories at Thatta Khedona include finger dolls, bookmarks and key chains that are crafted at TGD. All the local artists employed for the making of these toys are further trained by European volunteers to more finesse to their final products.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

Soon after this project was launched, domestic expatriates and families of diplomats began to show a keen interest in purchasing the products of Thatta Khedona as souvenirs from Pakistan and within a few years, these locally handmade dolls were being exported to more than 40 different countries!

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

To highlight the talent of Pakistani locals, these dolls have been showcased in the International Dolls Museum (Amsterdam), International Dolls Museum (Iceland), the German Society for the Promotion of Culture (Germany), Dubai Shopping Festival (Dubai) and also in the International Museum for Children (Turkey).

In 2014, Thatta Khedona received an award by the UN-IWSA (International Women Solidarity Association) in Turkey. These dolls have also won the Best Doll-Making Award in Lok Virsa, Islamabad.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

These dolls have also participated in the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg and they were the only official Pakistani submission, competing with 767 other worldwide project entries at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany. And in 2005, these manmade wonders were displayed at the Pakistani Pavilion in Aichi, Japan.

These achievements should be considered a matter of pride and honour for Pakistan. Aside from the awards, a German documentary has also been made on Thatta Khedona, which was presented at Globians Film Festival in 2005.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

To preserve the culture, an annual competition of painting/decorating mud houses is held every year where the winner is awarded a cash prize of Rs10,000. The enterprise of Thatta Khedona has changed the village of Thatta Ghulamka Dheroka. The relative prosperity is visible and an example of this rise in living standards is that people have started building brick houses instead of the mud houses previously used. The focus is now shifting from handicrafts to agriculture and livestock by purchasing land and buffaloes.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

The demand for these artefacts varies and, sometimes, it even exceeds the supply ratio.

Overall, TGD is a great example of a self-help project in Pakistan. It should motivate people living in rural areas to do better. If the people of TGD can do it, then other villages in Pakistan can also change their own destiny and leave a mark on this world with their skills and abilities.

Photo: Ali Raza Jafri

I, too, visited the village in March 2014. It was a great experience and people were extremely welcoming, hospitable and friendly. I played my part in this self-reliance project by purchasing dolls for my sisters from the Women’s Art Centre. You can do so too, by promoting this initiative and by purchasing these little wonders from the Thatta Khedona shop.

I personally feel that if such initiatives stay alive and are promoted we are in for a happier, healthier and more prosperous Pakistan.

Ali Raza Jafri

Ali Raza Jafri

A practising general physician who completed his M.B.B.S. from NUST in 2008. He is carrying out research work on ‘Reasons to Believe in Pakistan’.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.