IN THE MOOD FOR PEACE
Carol Isfeld. Mark said, “Look, Mom: A little child has lost her doll and a doll her little child.” Remembering his happy upbringing in Canada, he added, “These kids don’t have a childhood.”
Carol was moved by the photo and felt the need to do something to help her son cope with the daily challenges he faced on duty. Giving a gift of a doll to the children of war, to bring a little happiness into their lives, would also bring joy to Mark as he gave them out. So Carol began crocheting little dolls—girls with yellow pigtails and boys with blue berets. She sent them to her son and, as Mark gave out the dolls, he became known as the soldier who collected little smiles, little handshakes and little hearts.
Tragically, the following year, Mark was killed by an exploding land mine on June 21, 1994, in Croatia. After his death, Mark’s troop named the doll after Izzy and continued giving out Izzy dolls to the children in his honour. Over the years, the Izzy doll has become a symbol of peace, showing the humanitarian side of all Canadian soldiers.
Nationwide, knitters and crocheters joined Carol’s cause to bring smiles to the children of war. Their candid comments expressed the joy they felt in helping the children. Many of the elderly crafters had lived through wartime and the Great Depression. They said they knew what it was like to have nothing, and that creating an Izzy doll for a child who had nothing was something they just had to do.
ICROSS JOINS IN
To relieve suffering in the world, Vancouver resident and Canadian veteran Billy Willbond and his wife Lynne started ICROSS Canada (International Community for the Relief of Suffering and Starvation). Since its inception in 1998, ICROSS Canada has repurposed and distributed millions
of dollars’ worth of medical equipment to suffering Third World villages, and sent medical aid and much more. Billy sought and received permission from Carol Isfeld to use the Izzy doll for, as Billy put it: “for the poorest of the poor on the planet.” Carol Isfeld suggested the knitters and crocheters use darker colours for the skin tones, making the dolls more real for these children. It would be called the “Izzy African Comfort Doll” and even more crafters were excited to volunteer.
Although Billy’s death in 2014 has left an unmistakable void, many veterans across Canada—including Maj.-gen. Lewis Mackenzie (Ret’d), the patron of ICROSS Canada—continue to collect used hospital equipment, Izzy dolls, African comfort dolls, and medicines for shipment to Third World countries and countries needing assistance.
Much has happened in the years following Mark’s death. More than 1.5 million Izzy dolls have brought comfort, peace and love not only to the innocent victims of war but also to children suffering globally because of natural disasters, starvation, displacement and trauma.
Many Canadian charities, doctors, health care workers, students and others also take thousands of Izzy dolls with them each year to distribute to children in South America and Third World countries.
In 2007, following the death of Carol Isfeld, I became the “Izzy Doll Mama.” I’m fortunate to be working in partnership with the Canadian Military Engineers, other Canadian Armed Forces personnel and, in particular, with former Canadian Military Engineer Association president Lt.-col. Ken Holmes (Ret’d), who is my military adviser.
As well as those mentioned above, the Isfeld family and the multi-talented Phyllis Wheaton, whose book In the Mood for Peace: The Story of the Izzy Doll was published in 2011, have taught me the true meaning of “humanitarian.” The giving of time, talent and love that Canadians across the country have shown for the suffering children of the world through the Canadian Military Engineering Izzy Doll Project continues to be a journey of love. n