How THIS DUBLIN schoolgirl's love of stamps led to romance in japan and a charity mission
50 years ago a young Drimnagh girl advertised for a Japanese penpal. What followed led her to set up a charity with her sister to help sweatshop workers on the other side of the world. Dermot Bolger tells their story
The distance between Drimnagh and Tallaght depends on how you spell 'Tallaght'.
Spelt the Irish way as "Tallaght", the journey is six miles. But if spelt as Tala (though pronounced the same), the journey is seven thousand miles to Tala, one of the poorest slums in the Philippines.
There are many links and migrations between Drimnagh and Tallaght, but thanks to two Dublin sisters there is also a unique link between Drimnagh and Tala. And it would never have occurred if a 1960s Drimnagh schoolgirl, Ann McCarthy, had become an avid stamp-collector
As Ann's younger sister, Margarita Synnott, recalls, "when any letter came to our house Ann would soak the envelope and carefully float the stamps off". Twelve-year-old Ann's problem was that one page of her stamp album -- Japan -- was blank. Her remedy was to advertise in a Japanese newspaper for a pen pal.
She hoped for one reply, but 100 letters from Japan reached Drimnagh. Soon, half of Drimnagh was writing to Japan. Ann's penfriend was a boy named Yasuaki. They corresponded through secondary school and continued when Ann became a secretary in Dublin and Yasuaki attended university to become a doctor. In 1968 he qualified and wrote to tell Ann that he had won a scholarship to study in Germany. Ann's family invited him to stay in Dublin. By the end of his six-week stay, Miss Anne McCarthy in Drimnagh had vowed to become Mrs Ann McCarthy Fukumoto in Japan.
The two sisters soon led different lives in different countries, but shared a strong sense of social justice. Many years after leaving Ireland, Ann Fukumoto became aware that a small group of previously exploited women in Tala in the Philippines had set up their own cottage industry. Previously the only work available for them was in packed sweatshops.
But with the help of Carmelite nuns, these sweatshop workers, sick of being exploited and never seeing their children, began to make exquisite hand-stitched dolls at homes.
However, their homes had mud floors and much stock was destroyed in the rainy season. Therefore the women realised they needed a proper workshop -- only this time it would not be an exploitative workshop but a collective enterprise. The women created a unique stitched doll that children would cherish, but had no way of getting this doll to the outside world without middlemen stealing the profit, like the sweatshop owners had done.
This is where the two sisters from Drimnagh came in. Ann Fukumoto became a volunteer in Japan, selling their dolls at craft fairs and ensuring that every cent of profit went directly back to the Tala women. She also persuaded her sister, Margarita, to become the Irish volunteer seller for these women whose business is called The Doll House project.
In Ireland, the Doll House project was initially run by Margarita from her front room until All Hallows College in Drumcondra generously made a room available for this enterprise, which has charitable status from the Revenue Commissioners.
The Doll House project -- through which Margarita Synnott now sells a range of exquisite hand-sewn toys -- has virtually no expenses beyond postage, though she confesses she went mad one time and blew €20.20 on glitter glue for writing on angels. Every cent earned goes to that co-operative run by the female workers who escaped sweatshop labour.
Two hundred women work in and own the Fairy-Tale Doll Project that operates like a credit union, with workers able to borrow from the profits to build better homes. The range of products have grown more inventive, with hand-stitched advent calendars, animal trains with tiny figures, Noah's arks and cloth books that would delight any child.
There are no middle-men taking profits and they are not sold in shops. For a time Margarita sold them at craft fairs, but now she sells mainly by word of mouth and through becoming an entertaining speaker, voluntarily visiting an group of women who appreciate exquisite workmanship.
All Hallows College support Margarita's voluntary operation and have a glass unit displaying a range of these gifts for sale. This is the only outlet in Ireland, beyond contacting Margarita directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 087 633 7362.
If you follow the link on the All Hallows website (www.allhallows.ie) to the Doll House project you can also see these beautiful children's gifts.
Every time a toy made by that collective of Manila woman, who refused to be exploited, is sold in Ireland, it is down to the fact that a child in Drimnagh on a 1960s winter's evening discovered she had no stamps for the Japanese page in her stamp album and decided to do something about it.