Persona Doll News

Great beginnings in work with Persona Dolls

Teaching with Persona Doll

Teaching with Persona Doll

Help to break the silence that is AIDS

We are raising money to pay for the training of teachers in the use of Persona Dolls.

Persona Dolls are large, soft bodied dolls used to help young children to talk about difficult issues.

The Early Years Practitioner develops a character profile – the ‘persona’ of the doll – and by introducing the doll to groups of children, encourages them to develop empathy for the doll and open up about issues which affect their lives. This method has been shown to be highly effective in practice here in Britain and in South Africa.

In 2005 and 2011 Jane took her Persona Doll, Lindiwe, with her and Jane and Lindiwe visited many of the pre-schools in the Centocow area.

Using Persona Dolls in South Africa

In South Africa the dolls are used to help children to come to terms with fears, anxieties and loss in communities where HIV/ Aids is still subject to the kind of stigma which silences them into helplessness.

Approximately one in five young children has been orphaned by the virus. The highest incidence of HIV transmission is amongst young people, teenage girls being the most vulnerable.

Jane w Lindiwe at PreSchool

Jane & Persona Doll, Lindiwe at a Pre-School in the Centocow area

The preschool teachers in and around Centocow in KwaZulu-Natal are dedicated to giving care and education to young children and work with pitifully few resources. Their training is patchy and sometimes non-existent.

We are raising money to pay for the training of teachers in the use of Persona Dolls.
Representatives of the Pre-school Association in Centocow are keen for their teachers to receive training. It will not only benefit the young children, but the training itself will provide a safe space for the teachers to begin to break the silence that is crippling their communities.
Money collected will go directly to Persona Doll Training South Africa and  TREE, the not for profit, Early Years Training organisation in Durban (Training and Resources for Early Education) whose members are trained and deliver Persona Doll Training in Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

For further information see ‘Confronting Silence’, Jane Habermehl’s MA dissertation.
E-mail: [email protected]

Persona Doll Training

Read the article by Phelisa, who was recently appointed as a senior trainer for Persona Doll training in South Africa. Her account of her role is a powerful and candid testimony to the effectiveness of Persona Dolls.

‘The persona dolls are very powerful – hear it from me. I am very happy and proud to be part of this team that offers diversity training and touches many lives while creating the space for people to talk about hidden issues. Coming from a disadvantaged background myself I wanted to be the agent of change which led me to development studies and psychology studies. It is satisfying to know that this training of teachers, ECD practitioners and parents is doing exactly that, bringing about significant change to children’s lives’. Read the full article here

After we advanced £850 to Persona Dolls, Carol Smith, [the then]  director, said, “This is fantastic news! We really are so happy to be working with Centocow and this support will really help.”

And Mandy Hudson, also from Persona Dolls, “Thank you so much, this is wonderful and will go a long way towards training the participants in Centocow.”

Great beginnings in work with Persona Dolls

The Teachers will be trained by TREE (Training and Resources for Early Education) trainers.
In 2014 Persona Dolls South Africa trained 14 volunteers with TREE, in the Centocow area for work supporting families and communities. The trainer commented, “It’s humbling to see how little people have.”

The participants were videoed in their first sessions with the children which gave the group a chance to discuss strategies and approaches. The dolls were given messages to take back to the parents and parents then were involved in the process.

The trainer commented, “It’s humbling to see how little people have.”

There were practical issues which were raised only as a result of the persona doll sessions which could be addressed by the family workers; these included abuse, keeping safe, behaviour and road safety as well as the need to access documents so that a child could be immunised, and lack of food.

Child with Persona Doll

Child with Persona Doll

The children really began to open up to the dolls. One doll, Nsipho, brought a bag containing a three legged cooking pot and the dangers of fire were discussed with the children.

Seeing themselves on video participants were able to discuss the value of open ended questions and also see that the greatest challenge for them was to allow the children to speak more and for the teachers to speak less.

Participants were also given fabric to make a bag so that the dolls could bring in a prop to help initiate a conversation.

Persona Dolls director, Mandy Hudson now has plans to train 25 teachers in the Centocow area.

The Persona Doll trainers in South Africa are based in Cape Town, so travel and accommodation are a huge cost in this undertaking. 25 trainees will be trained over three days with two further follow up days. It is important that participants really understand and work with the process together, having time to discuss good practice, their response to difficult conversations and with the support of the trainers. Part of the cost of the training is also the cost of the dolls which each of the trainees will have to continue this valuable work.

Devon-Centocow-Link funded Persona Doll training in Centocow.

In August 2017 24 Family Support workers from this very rural area of KwaZulu-Natal were each given their own Persona Doll and during a workshop they were shown how to use the dolls. The session started with a song and participants practised creating the Persona for their Dolls and learned how the process empowers young children to talk about difficult issues.

Singing to begin the day

Singing to begin the day

The objectives of the training were
• Practitioners will become more aware of their stereotypes of people.
• Develop anti-discriminatory attitudes and become more able to combat exclusion and unfairness.
• Session with the dolls increase participation by children, develop the active listening skills of teachers and encourage them to accept each child’s responses and give positive feedback.
• The dolls will make it easier for the practitioners not to impose their own ideas on the children.
• Teachers will step back and let the children identify the dolls feeling and problem solve.
• Teachers will be able to use the Doll’s feeling and problem solve.
• Teachers will be able to use the Doll to react to issues as they can also use them pro-actively to raise issues of discrimination and prejudice e.g around disability, language, culture, faith, health and HIV/AIDS.
• The Doll can help to turn the culture of the group away from teasing,name-calling and exclusion towards caring, respect and support.

Children Shy pic

fun small group pic

Teach and Learn Pic

Thobekile Zulu led the training.

Trainer: Thobekile Zulu

Trainer: Thobekile Zulu

She summarised; “All objectives were well met and in line with the expectation of the practitioners. 24 Practitioners gained from the training.”

£2,500 has been raised to train teachers in the Centocow area in using Persona Dolls to help young children to talk about difficult issues which affect their lives..

“A Big thank you for helping us reach the £2,500 target.”

Recent Comments


    Devon Centocow Link

    Jane Habermehl an early years specialist teacher made links with a group of schools in Rurual Kwa-Zulu-Natal in September 2001. The Exmouth Centocow Linking Assoc. was formed on her return and over the years she has shared her knowledge of pre-schools in South Africa and revisited the teachers on several occasions.
    Devon Centocow Link
    Devon Centocow Link
    Rural Pre-school teachers of the Centocow area need your support.

    The aim of my original trip to Centocow in 2001 was to work alongside pre-school teachers, helping them to set up an association which would unite them and give them mutual support and become a force for group training. Each time I visit I learn more about the country and its culture and feel privileged to work alongside these dedicated teachers. The teachers here work on a voluntary basis in very inadequately resources buildings.

    In 2001 there were eighteen pre-schools and now their number has swelled to sixty. Working with Zimbili Dlamini, the co-ordinator of the Family Literacy Project we have divided the schools into six clusters by area. Each cluster chose a co-ordinator who would arrange a meeting every six to eight weeks to share resources and support each other, helping each other with funding applications. They would have a smaller transport bill and Zimbili would be a nominal co-ordinator distributing funds for transport and refreshment costs but twice a year calling whole Association meetings for training purposes. The first of these will be in December when a social worker will visit them to advise them on the lengthy and complex bureaucratic process of registration.

    Registration does not give the teachers other than a nominal quarterly payment but it does ensure that their provision is adequate in a basic sense and the big bonus is that they receive good food for the children they care for on a daily basis.

    By Jane Habermehl.

    Devon Centocow Link is committed to pay the teachers’ travel costs to their meetings and for maintaining a few essential resources such as scissors crayons and glue. See the whole article at
    for more information about our work with the pre-schools.

    Please consider a monthly donation, however small, in order for us to continue this basic support
    Devon Centocow Link
    Devon Centocow Link
    Pre-schools in Centocow KZN
    Devon Centocow Link
    Devon Centocow Link is with Sibongile Mtungwa.
    Girl Power

    18 teenage girls from four rural schools in the Centocow area are working towards becoming Authentic African Women for the 21st Century.

    Check in for more information on our website
    Devon Centocow Link
    Devon Centocow Link
    Zimbile and the Family Literacy Project

    One of the exciting developments for Devon Centocow Link since becoming a registered charity is the potential for learning from and engaging with our partner non-profit organisations. This opportunity gives us further scope for assisting in new ventures as well as benefiting our current projects.

    Find out more at

    How to Support Devon Centocow link

    devon south africa link logo You can support Devon Centocow Link in many different ways.

    Click here to find out more

    Support Devon Centocow Link

    Support our latest Project

    Lindiwe in Himmeville

    Persona Dolls – giving children a voice

    Persona Dolls are a powerful learning tool for all Primary teachers. Curriculum requirements, government and OFSTED pressures on teachers to attain required standards all fight against the well-researched and well known facts about learning: Children do not perform well under pressure, with emotional insecurities and need space to explore their feelings, develop their own voice, tell their own stories and learn to live confidently amongst their peers. The Persona Doll is a valuable tool for powerful PHSE learning and I advocate its use in all schools. Read the following article and visit the Persona Doll website for further information.

    I sit down on a child’s plastic chair with Lindiwe, my Persona Doll on my lap. Having explained to all the staff and trainee Early Years teachers of this lovely Early Years Centre, Felicity, the manager, now brings the children to sit in front of me. There are ninety of them. The staff led the children onto the verandah to sit in front of me, the oldest in the front.

    I am calm and confident that Lindiwe will speak to the children, but the audience is rather large and not ideal for this encounter.

    “Good morning, everyone. My name is Jane, a visitor from England. I would like to introduce my friend, Lindiwe to you. She is from South Africa but she now lives in England where her mother is a nurse.”
    I gently tilt Lindiwe’s head towards my ear and allow her to ‘speak’ to me. I tell the children that Lindiwe says she is really excited to be here and meet all the children. She speaks of various things she enjoys in South Africa.

    The children’s attention is fixed on the Doll and I begin to wonder how I can really bring her alive to them on her first visit and with so many children present. This is not how it works, I am thinking, but the children are so engaged.
    Lindiwe inclines towards me some more and I begin to tell the children a little more about herself; how she has a daddy who drives a bus around the city and how her mummy is a nurse. Lindiwe pauses a little, her head bowed, then whispers in my ear. I tell the children,
    “Sometimes her mummy works at night and if she wakes up in the night she is afraid because her mummy is not there.”

    Some of the older children in the front stand up and move towards me. One child touches the Doll gently and pulls her head towards his own ear.
    “Is Lindiwe speaking to you?”   I say after a pause.

    The child looks up and tells me that he misses his daddy and he loves his daddy best. One after another, quietly taking it in turns, several children follow, tilting the Doll’s head to their ear and when prompted tell me about a parent or someone they love and are missing. Some of the children sitting behind are still watching, eyes wide, others stand and move towards the front. There begins to be a lot of movement but the children are talking quietly.

    I was moved by the children’s response. This is not a time for sharing or responding en-masse. For a start it is a whole school, not a group or a class and it is obvious so many very personal issues have been touched. The teachers watch their children carefully, aware of the impact of this encounter.

    After the session, Felicity tells me how moved she is by the children’s response. These children are all either orphans or abused young children. Some of them have not spoken about their families before.

    The Persona Doll is a powerful tool for teachers and support workers.

    After training, the teacher will learn to present the doll to a group of children, speaking for the doll and prompting the children’s response. The doll child will represent a child of similar age, with similar likes and dislikes to those of their peer group. The ‘Persona’ is the doll’s story and circumstances which remains unchanged through all the meetings with the group or class and becomes a friend who the children confide in. Dolls of different culture, skin colour, ability or family structure represent diversity and children learn to empathise and explore their feelings about difference. The teacher lets them explore in their thinking and discussion, their response to the doll child’s experience when they present examples of racism, bullying etc. They are particularly useful to highlight issues without making an example of an individual child.

    The session in South Africa happened when I was visiting a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal to provide teachers there with their own training in the use of Persona Dolls. In this area where every child has been affected by the devastation of HIV/AIDs, the dolls are a powerful tool for the children to voice their feelings and anxieties.

    Jane Habermehl is an Early years specialist and a trainer for Devon Development Education in Exeter.