Texas Woman Sends Black Dolls to Orphans in Uganda to Help Show Them ‘You Can be the Center of the Story’

Kids at Masaka Orphanage hold their dolls
Credit: MASAKA KIDS

Lauren Stevens still remembers the confusion she felt at a childhood birthday party when her frustrated mother took away the new Barbies she’d received as presents from classmates.

“I remember thinking, ‘Well that’s so weird, why would she do that?’ ” Stevens, who is Black, tells PEOPLE. “And she just said, ‘It’s really important for kids to play with toys and have imaginations where you get to be the center of the story, and you don’t always have to see someone that doesn’t look like you being the hero or the princess.’ I’ve remembered that my entire upbringing.”

That childhood birthday party was at the forefront of Stevens’ mind in May, when she noticed that the children at Masaka Kids, a Uganda orphanage she follows on Instagram, were playing will dolls with light skin and blonde hair, similar to the Barbies she once received.

And so Stevens, 29, left a simple comment, which — just 20 days later — snowballed into all of the girls in the orphanage having Black dolls of their own to play with, bought from a Black-owned shop out of South Africa.

Stevens, who is a State Farm recruiter based in Richardson, Texas, kicked things off by commenting on the post, “How can we donate some brown-skinned dolls?”

The orphanage immediately responded with a comment of its own thanking her for her generosity, and soon, others had hopped on board too, letting Stevens know they wanted to help her get dolls to the kids.

Lauren Stevens
Credit: LAUREN STEVENS
Children play at Masaka Kids
Credit: MASAKA KIDS

She did a quick search on Amazon for toys that would fit the bill, but deemed the available options not “very cute,” and switched gears once she realized the immense support she was receiving online could provide her the ability to expand her horizons.

“That was right around a lot of the George Floyd protests, and there was just all this focus on unemployment and people having really tough times, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t go to Amazon, maybe I should try a small business,’ ” she says.

After some research on Google, Stevens came upon Malaville Dolls, a specialty shop she says stood out to her thanks to the different hair textures, skin tones, and clothing available for the dolls.

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SOURCE: PEOPLE, Rachel DeSantis