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Creating dolls that reflect and engender pride in being African

Inside the gleaming white storefront, Khulile picked up a doll to show a customer who wandered in off the street in Ferndale, a suburb of Johannesburg, where the shop is located.

Sibahle Collection, which started in Khulile’s garage in 2017, quickly grew into this shop, where she transferred the business in 2018.

The doll, dressed in a bright orange and yellow print with small black polka dots, had a skin condition called vitiligo, which causes the skin to look patchy. The woman touched the doll with fascination, looking up at Khulile with soft, sad eyes.

“Do you know what this would have done for my self-esteem, if I had grown up with a doll that looked like me?” she said to Khulile.

*****a photo of a woman smiling

Though the mission of Sibahle Collection is for every child to grow up aware of the beautiful and rich diversity that the world has to offer, the beginning of Khulile’s story didn’t start with every child. It didn’t even start entirely with her own child.
It started when Khulile herself was a child.

Every morning in the township of Newcastle, several miles south of Johannesburg, Khulile would wake at dawn. She’d stoke the coal fire to warm up the house and place a concrete brick into the fire. Then, she’d wrap the brick in newspaper and hold it close to her body to keep her warm in the bitterly cold Newcastle winter, while she walked to school.

One morning, as she stood outside holding her hot brick, she turned around to take in the rows and rows of impoverished homes in the low-income housing where she lived. Smoke poured out of the roofs, each warmed by a coal fire just like hers. Suddenly, Khulile caught the faint whisper of fate on the wind, as sure and silent as the gentle snow falling around her.

“This isn’t your destiny.”

At that moment, she knew it. She wanted something other than what life had handed her. And she would go get it.

*****

Khulile was raised by her great grandmother, and then her grandmother when her great grandmother passed away, because in her culture a child who was born out of wedlock could not go live with her mother’s new family if the mother married.

“My mom was about to marry my stepdad. She had no choice but to leave me behind, as dictated by our culture” Khulile said, shaking her head in disapproval.

She pushed herself hard in school—harder than anyone else she saw. Education became the vehicle she’d use to usher in her bright future.

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