Mandela Day

PDT encourages everyone to be an activist every day for Madiba’s values of kindness, respect; and empathy. Madiba said: 'No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their sex. We have to learn to hate. If we can learn to hate then we can learn to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it's opposite'. This quote sums up our anti-bias work.

The Persona Doll anti-bias approach is made up of four main components: building identity and self-esteem, developing empathy, unlearning negative attitudes and encouraging a problem-posing/activist approach. We encourage you to be an activist for Madiba’s values of kindness, respect; and empathy in your day to day life with children and with adults. Mandela Day is not just on 18 July. The Nelson Mandela Foundation reminds us: “it’s not just about doing 67 minutes of good and that we must bring about sustainable social change in the lives of our people.”

PDT through our training and leadership work tries to deeper under-standing of issues of equality and respect, and provide practical and activist ways of making a real difference.


Also featured in this newsletter

Introducing our new director

Delores Athiemulam joins PDT as the new Director, bringing an wealth of experience, qualifications, skills and contacts in a career that has spanned from grassroots education to executive leadership of organisations. She leaves a position as Centre Director of the Nokuphila Community Centre in Gauteng. She served previously as Country Director for Operation HOPE SA and Managing Director for the Institute of Training and Education for Capacity building (ITEC) in East London.

Delores says: It is with great joy and privilege that I join the Persona Doll Training team at this particular time!

The need for PDT’s work in South Africa is even greater today than at any other time. Our communities are faced with so many diverse social ills, poverty, violence, unemployment, sexual abuse, murder and the list goes on…. Amidst all of these challenges, our children are the victims.

Being part of the PDT movement of change, is indeed a privilege. As PDT, we must stay current and relevant in our response to the needs of the community and equipping our children with the skills to deal with the daily challenges. Ongoing programme development and curriculum reviews form part and parcel of our work to keep addressing the diverse needs of the communities that we serve. We need to listen and respond to the voices of our communities and more especially our children, the future of our country.

The voices of our children are demanding of us to change their world. Persona Doll Training is part of a movement for change and creating a better life for our children. PDT will be looking at greater community participation by bringing more parents onboard in working with young children in their communities using the Persona Dolls. We will call for more corporate involvement and support in helping us to make a difference!

Let us remember the words spoken by the late President Nelson Mandela: “ Children are the most important aspect in a country.” At PDT they are the most important aspect of our organization!


Teen Dolls at NACCW conference

4th July to 6th July 2017 in Kimberley, South Africa. The conference covered areas like healthy child and youth development and improved standards of care for vulnerable children. Well done to Kerileng Finger and Memoria Vryman, Isibindi mentors, presented their work with Persona Dolls and Teen Dolls at the conference. PDT works with NACCW to empower their mentors and youth workers to use Persona Dolls and Teen Persona Dolls to enrich their professional training to promote healthy child and youth development and improve standards of care and treatment for orphaned, vulnerable and at risk children and youth in family, community and residential group care settings.


'A Surprise at the Park': a strong girl story for Mandela day

“Pauline and Kagiso are excited to go on a class outing to the park. They enjoy playing on the swings. As they are on their way to see the ducks on the vlei, something unexpected happens..“ ‘A Surprise at the Park’ is PDT’s first children’s book! It was written by Wendy Hartman and illustrated by Margriet Brink. It is available in two versions; isi Xhosa and English; and Sesotho and Zulu version. Children aged 3 to 9 years will enjoy the story of two children’s adventure while on a school outing.

The book cleverly combines a captivating story while raising important issues – including challenging gender stereotypes, children’s confidence and agency in problem solving and decision making, the positive roles of fathers and teachers in children’s lives, as well as the importance of caring for others and animals.

The book comes with guidelines for parents and teachers to maximize the positive impact on the young reader/listener. The suggested guidelines will encourage children to identify with the main characters, stimulate their own problem solving abilities, encourage questions and discussion, and assist children in expressing their own feelings when faced with challenges. Persona Doll Training published the book because we think it is important to help teachers and parents read and tell stories that are fun and meaningful to their children. Reading aloud is the most important way to build future reading and cognitive skills in children.

The BIG BOOK can be used with a whole class of children in Early Childhood Development centers and primary schools. Order your copy from


Diversity Workshop

PDT presented a two-day Diversity Workshop in May, facilitated by Thikam Pillay and Pat Birkett. Whilst our Persona Doll training always includes the Anti Bias Approach and the thread of diversity is embedded and runs throughout the training Diversity was the focus of this workshop content, and not the Persona Doll approach.

We included a space for deep individual reflections and in many of the discussions participants made reference to the theories e.g. Internalised Oppression, Internalised Dominance etc. We recognized how this might have, and could still be playing out in their own life experiences – how many have challenged and will continue to challenge the devastating impact of oppression at all of it’s different levels.

Voices from the workshop:

  • "How do we have the difficult conversations, how do I stand up for what I believe? do I not get angry ….?"

  • “Internal dominance, Internal Oppression… I have been thinking about it all night, questioning….. how I can hinder us….we tend to believe we are ‘less than’ …..lack of information leads to labelling….."

  • ”This workshop has given me the time for self reflection to identify the areas in myself that still need work….. at times we may be so aware of injustice and at other times it just passes us by without even noticing…

  • “The two days really got me thinking about the amount we have as human beings in taking the responsibility to make the change , ‘agents of change’…..”

  • “I felt very grateful to have the opportunity to listen , to learn and to share, and to meet new people to revisit my internal states…..I was very interested to hear about current issues of bias, and at the same time disturbed and very sad they are not different from 20 years ago when I first was educated in understanding them…”

  • “..I was pushed out of my comfort zone, I was forced to take a long hard look at myself and to acknowledge my prejudices , many of which were subconscious… was wonderful being ex-posed to people from different walks of life, with different life experiences and views, yet somehow there were/are common themes and ties that bind us despite our differences….. I leave feel hopeful and empowered……thank you for a transformative experience..”

  • “This training allowed me to express myself freely in a circle of people coming from different cul-tural backgrounds but yet similar life experiences….”

  • “ A powerful 2 days for me. There was a masterful balance between theory and experience, between speaking and listening, between reflection and participating…. Our two facilitators expertly modelled the anti-bias approach which has added such a validity, integrity and depth to the training….”

  • “I enjoyed being with a younger generation…..I’d love to see this workshop in action amongst school teen or students as that is my context as an educator

The range of work and life experience present in the group resulted in open sharing with a number of people commenting on the safe space that had been created and that facilitated the nature of sharing and discussions.

We so valued and appreciated the level of discussion and sharing as we all recognized the reality of how much work we still have to do to facilitate and create the space for individuals to start and continue the journey of working with self and ultimately embrace diversity in society.


Facilitation Workshop

PDT offered a high spirited facilitation skills workshop in July. Participants honed their skills in listening, presenting, theories of adult learning, how to give feedback and how to mentor.


Like Me ! Ubuntu play dolls

Our range of dolls to celebrate our diverse cultures make it possible for children to play proudly with dolls that look like themselves and their friends. This helps children to develop their self-esteem and confidence. The response “like me’ says that the child feels loved, feels visible, worth something and respected for who s/he is. Ubuntu Play dolls are anatomically correct, high-quality boy and girl dolls that are available in diverse cultural backgrounds with authentic skin and eye colours, hair styles and types. They are safe, durable and machine washable.

The dolls come dressed in a set of removable clothing. Traditional props and clothing can be added or improvised, for example headscarves/kippahs. They are hand made by skills development groups and generate income for local communities. They are proudly South African!

Advantages of Ubuntu play dolls:

These attractive, diverse dolls will make play especially meaningful for the children – dolls that look just like them, as well as dolls that look like other people in their communities. Children identify with their dolls, and feel proud that the doll is “just like me”. This reinforces the child’s positive sense of their gender, culture, faith, and community. They learn that we can all be ‘friends together’ even if we may look different. Language will be stimulated through their enriched play.

The dolls encourage discussion, education and acceptance of diversity by demonstrating the values and heritage we all bring to our cultures.


'Blessers' - Mashudu's story

The issue of "blessers" is very relevant in our society struggling with poverty and a history of innequality. We need to look at this issue with a different lens from a non-judgemental perspective towards these young girls who date these men as a means of survival.

Meet Mashudu: aged 18, she lives in a village near to Polokwane with her single mother, her grandparents and four younger cousins, two boys and two girls. Last month her mother was retrenched from her job in town so money is short.

Mashudu is the first person in her family to go to high school and they are all very proud of her. She has just turned 18 and is doing matric this year at a high school in Polokwane. She studies hard and to relax she loves to dance – she has been looking forward to the matric dance for months. Her boyfriend Bheki is in second year at college. They have been an item for two years – and he also loves to dance, especially the tango. Mashudu is determined to get good Matric results, especially maths and biology, because she wants to be a teacher. On school days Mashudu walks 5 km to get to the taxi stop - sometimes she runs the distance to keep fit but the road can be very dusty. Her grandparents give her taxi fare out of their old age pensions.


I am Mashudu, a matric student in Polokwane. I study hard and I’m confident I will get good results and that is what my teachers and my family expect. My problem is MONEY – MONEY for the matric dance. My mother promised to buy me a dress and shoes for the dance but she was retrenched last month so I’m stuck:

  • I can’t ask my mother for money.
  • I can’t ask my grandparents - their pension is too small and they already pay my taxi fare to school.
  • I can’t ask Bheki, my boyfriend – he is struggling to pay fees at college.
  • I tried to get a casual job but they told me: try in the Christmas season.

Eish, I’m desperate to go to the dance – I can’t wait to do the tango with Bheki. We learned to tango from watching that programme on TV and it is fantastic! So fast and sexy and dramatic. They say it takes two to tango and Bheki and I will show everyone we can, yes we can. I just have to find a way to get us to the matric dance.

Let me tell you my idea and you tell me what you think. Yesterday I was the last person getting out of the taxi. The taxi driver smiled at me and said: “Hey gorgeous, if you want something for something, let me know – you will make me a happy man!” He is about 30, sexy voice, not bad looking, nice gold chain, not one of those disgusting old fat guys. I was kind of shocked but it gave me an idea. I’m sure you can guess …

1. What do you think the taxi driver means?

Probe for: he is offering to be her blesser – to give her gifts in exchange for sex.

2. What is Mashudu’s idea?

Probe for: She wants a blesser to pay for them to go to the Matric dance - what will they need? If matric dances are familiar in the area, let the group spell out the expenses: buying or hiring outfits and shoes; dance tickets; transport; etc – can be terribly expensive.

Mashudu continues:

I’ve been thinking about it all day: Ok, I’ve got my boyfriend Bheki (FOR LOVE) but why not get a blesser as well (FOR EXTRA MONEY for things I really need)? Lots of girls do it so it can’t be so bad. And it’s not forever, just for a few months, to pay for the tickets and my dance dress – I would love a silver dress and silver shoes, tango-style. My mom will be so excited to see me all dressed up! I’d love to have a cell phone and airtime but that I can sacrifice that … as long as I get to do the tango with Bheki.

And if Mr Taxi Driver lets me travel for free on his taxi, I can save my grandparents’ money. I don’t even know his name, maybe I don’t need to know his name, I’ll call him Mr Taxi Driver. I won’t tell Bheki and what he does not know won’t hurt him. Bheki is the man for me and he says I am his woman for life, he never beats me, he never cheats on me. It is Bheki who will tango with me at the matric dance and the money I need will come from Mr Taxi Driver. It’s not really cheating because I love Bheki, I don’t love the other guy … It would be like a part-time casual job, for a few months.

3. Do lots of young girls have blessers – why?

Probe for: what are the benefits, what are the dangers to the girls? Unwanted pregnancy, STIs including HIV, dropping out of school …

4. What do you think of Mashudu’s plan to have a secret blesser but keep Bheki as her boyfriend?

Probe for: issues around cheating/not cheating Bheki and ways that having a blesser could damage a love relationship.

Mashudu continues her story:

Don’t worry, I won’t get pregnant. Bheki and I talked about contraception so I had the injection / or took the pill. I want to finish my studies before I have a baby. Ok, I can ask Mr Taxi Driver to use a condom but people say blessers don't like to use condoms – they want flesh on flesh/skin on skin. Well, I can ask him, I can even take condoms with me and offer to put one on him. Maybe he will agree.

5. If Mr Taxi Driver refuses to condomise, what is the danger for Mashudu?

Probe for: The pill or the injection protects against pregnancy but it does not protect against STIs including HIV – only condoms do that.

6. Do you see any risks to Bheki?

Probe for: If Mashudu contracts HIV or another STI from her blesser, and has sex with Bheki without a condom, she can infect Bheki.

Mashudu ends her story:

Please don’t talk about bad stuff like STIs and HIV - that will bring bad luck. There is no need to talk like that. This is my chance: if Mr Taxi Driver wants to bless me that’s ok, just for a couple of months. Then I can enjoy the matric dance with Bheki and I will say “Thank you and goodbye, Mr Taxi Driver”. He will easily find someone else to bless – maybe he already has lots of girlfriends. I will still have Bheki as the love of my life and he won’t know I have been blessed. Then I will carry on with my studies, so will Bheki, no problem.

What do you think of my plan? Do you think she should say no to Mr Taxi Driver and sacrifice the Matric dance?

7. Can you suggest a better plan for her to get to the Matric dance?

8. Who can Mashudu talk to, to help her decide what to do?

If relevant, raise at some point:

9. Is it true that having sex with a young girl will cure HIV?

Probe for: Some men who are HIV-positive believe that if they have sex with a young girl, a virgin, it will cure them. This is a myth – a false story. There is no cure for HIV but there is treatment. It’s important to test and take ARVs if you test positive. Sex with a young girl will not cure the man of HIV but he can infect her.

We highlight a few ‘Blesser ‘issues:

  • Men are in powerful positions as opposed to women hence they have the money to shower these young girls with airtime, trips etc.

  • Gender inequality: Women are still seen as nothing else but sex objects.

  • The high poverty levels in our country hence women sell their bodies to men in exchange of the gifts, clothes, groceries etc.

  • The high rate of unemployment hence the sugar daddies are seen as a solution to the poverty problem.

  • The high rate of HIV and Aids due to this.

  • Illnesses like STIs are common.

  • Teenage pregnancy which leads to school dropouts.

  • "fatherless" children because some of these men are married men.

News from PDT UK

A report of the innovative professional development initiative designed and co-ordinated by the Barnet Early Years Alliance (BEYA) and Persona Doll Training. Learning to make a difference together.

The Barnet Early Years Alliance ( BEYA) and the Persona Doll storytelling approach complement one another. Equality, inclusion and social justice are embedded in the thinking and practice of both.


At BEYA, we realised the power of the Dolls in promoting inclusion and equality and in 2015 we began talking with Persona Doll Training about devising a joint project. As a teaching school we wanted to use the project as part of the training and to support other local Early Years settings in raising the quality of their provision on these important issues.

The Persona Doll approach is now an integral part of the three BEYA nursery schools’ curriculum and the teaching school. Working with the Dolls is not an extra, but part and parcel of what practitioners are required to do i.e. implementing the EYFS, be inclusive and promote ‘British’ Values. Our project ‘Learning to Make a Difference Together’ was successful largely due to the ease with which we were able to plan, co-ordinate and develop the networking between the settings, after the initial training.

Children identify with the Dolls and are then able to relate their own experiences to the experiences of the Doll. They are able to talk about any feelings that may be difficult for them to talk about, such as being angry.

The Dolls offer an effective tool and a child-friendly way to introduce topics often considered too difficult for young children to cope with. Research and experience suggest that their social emotional learning is enhanced.




Our pilot elearning course is underway

We are developing an ECD inclusion and diversity course including the persona doll approach. This is part of a blended approach - some contact training plus using the Internet resources to deepen understanding. It will bring video footage and activities to personalize your learning, and make the course real and exciting.

Please email if you are interested in doing such a course.


Contact us :

Telephone: 021 788 4365 / 021 797 1204


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