Canada is expected to receive thousands of Syrian refugees by the end of the year, and organizer Shirley O’Connell hopes to give an Izzy Doll to every child that comes.
The Izzy Dolls have been given by Canadian soldiers, peace keepers, and health workers in places like Haiti, Afghanistan, and Africa for the last 20 years. Carol Isfeld made the dolls for her son Master Corporal Mark Isfeld while he was serving in Croatia and Kuwait. Isfeld would hand out the small wool toys to children in the war torn countries.
After he was killed in 1994, in Croatia removing land mines, his mother continued his legacy. O'Connell is recruiting knitters to help out. “I’m hoping that the attention will cause a lot more knitters to be aware that these innocent children are coming into our country and they’ve been sort of bumped around from place to place, and these little dolls will bring them comfort,”
O'Connell takes great pride in knitting the Izzy dolls. There are two versions: the boy in a blue UN beret and the girl with braids. Each Izzy Doll has to be small and light enough for the soldiers to carry them in their pockets.
One testimonial from a corporal in Afghanistan during Christmas said, "at first the children were nervous about approaching us as we came into their village, but once they saw the dolls poking out from the top of the boxes we were carrying, we were all but mobbed by excited young Afghans holding out their little hands, calling out, ‘Mister, mister!’ Before I realized it, the box was empty and there were dozens of happy little faces milling around, enjoying their new treasures.”
O'Connell said,"It’s about the person knitting the doll because to me it speaks for Canadian women. It says we care about the children of the world, we care about the soldiers and health care workers, when they get the dolls there’s always smiles on their faces — and when you are knitting the dolls knowing that all that love is coming from Canada to the children of the world."