Okara, PAKISTAN – Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka is a historic clay village in Okara, a Pakistani city that is now renowned as the Village of Dolls.
In the 1990s, German artist and designer Senta Siller visited Pakistan with her husband, Norbert Pintsch. They came at the request of their student, Amjad Ali, who was born there.
On this visit they saw a handmade doll made by a local woman there. It gave Siller the ambition to empower this village.
She lived here in Pakistan for almost five years. During that time, in 1993, she and Ali established the NGO Anjuman-e-Falah-e-Aama.
The purpose of this non-profit was to support the women of the village through handicrafts.
Meanwhile, her husband developed a training center named Technology Transfer and Training Centre for Pakistani men.
The village is currently famous for making dolls and selling them in various countries. In addition, more than 100 types of products are also made in this village, representing a wide array of Pakistani culture.
Pinsch visits this village every year to see the progress of the project they started years ago.
Every year the German language instructor, Amir Rafique, arranges a trip for students to visit this village with Pinsch.
I got the chance to visit earlier this year on a tour arranged by the German Department of Institute of Oriental Languages at the University of the Punjab.
When Pinsch arrived in Pakistan, we went to the Village of Dolls. Ali welcomed us warmly and gave a short tour to the only school there, which was built through years of hard work by this NGO.
Children there were very excited to meet us. They were with us all the time, showing us different streets and playing with us.
The next stop was to the NGO’s office. There, Pintsch told us about how all this started.
“It is a holistic project,” he said. “The purpose of this project is to preserve the culture.”
Pintsch said the future does not lie in the city, but in the villages. Then he advised us to visit these villages more often because villages are more about nature.
The “new generation has to stop scrolling their newsfeed and start experiencing the real world,” Pintsch said.
Our last stop was to a house which was made of clay. It was so beautiful and everything was made of clay there. Handicrafts is the way people in the village earn a living.
Years ago, Siller and Pintsch took the initiative to empower this village. Now people from all over the world visit this place due to this project.
Artist Peter Hecht came from Spain to visit the Village of Dolls and stayed for a week.
So not only are the people of the village working hard and preserving the culture, they’re promoting tourism, too.
Amber Shakil is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.