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Meet the woman celebrating culture and diversity for kids

REPRESENTATION: Judith Makaniankhondo Nyrienda with her book Happy Birthday Vana

A CHILDREN’S book author and inspirational speaker has launched an African doll collection which she hopes will celebrate the culture and diversity to be found within the UK.

However, the latest creation is not just any ordinary doll collection. Judith Makaniankhondo Nyirenda’s dolls appear with a facial birthmark. “Being born with a facial birthmark was a challenge for me during my childhood,” said Nyirenda. “But I am happy that this doll will help children with facial birthmarks to feel celebrated.”

Nyirenda, who hails from Malawi and came to the UK as a teenager, aged 19, in January 2001, had always felt uncomfortable when people commented on her appearance – asking what had happened to her.
Based on her experience, the married mother of 3 hopes to help children who have facial birthmarks or any other conditions they find difficult to accept, to feel valued and celebrated through the launch her latest creation.

“A positive message will be transmitted if children see that a doll with a facial birthmark is accepted in influential visual outlets,” she said. “Not only will children feel accepted they will also receive a message which lets them know that they are normal just like everyone else.”

The dolls which, in the Chichewa language of Malawi in Africa are called ‘Mwana wa Amayi’ meaning ‘mother’s child,’ have already received positive feedback from parents and children Nyirenda has shared them with. “One parent told me how empowering the dolls are to her children who are of a mixed cultural background,” she said.

Nyirenda with one of her dolls

Culture and diversity is clearly important to Nyirenda who after completing a degree in arts and humanities at Newbold College, in Binfield, Berkshire, where she lives, wrote and published a bilingual book which celebrates the 5th birthday of her daughter.

Happy Birthday Vana which was launched on World Book Day (Mar 7) was given as a present to her daughter – Vana – so she could dress up on World Book Day as herself. The book is a recollection of Vana’s 5th birthday and is written in both English and her native Chichewa language as a celebration of the culture and identity to which her children belong.

Like her doll collection, the response to Nyirenda’s book has also been positive. She said: “Children have shared with me what celebrating their own birthday’s means to them personally while parents have shared how the themes of multiculturalism and identity reinforce a sense of realism and normality which children can relate to.”

As for her own children, Nyirenda would like her 2 daughters and son to embrace the varied languages and cultures to which they belong. “Having spent the first 19 years of my life in Malawi before moving to the UK, it’s important to me that my children are able to converse in both the Chichewa and English language to which we’ve been accustomed to. It is a celebration not only of culture and diversity but essentially of who we are,” she said.

With the launch of both her book and doll collection, Nyirenda hopes that all children and parents are embracing of the varied cultures and languages which make both themselves and Britain great.

Happy Birthday Vana by Judith Makaniankhondo Nyirenda is available on Amazon

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