Dollhouse project gives fundraiser for court advocates an international flair

The Egyptian house was plastered with photos of the revolution. The Moroccan one featured a wall painted in the traditional tadleakt way, with big swoops in the paint. And the Pakistani one had a place for the family to eat on the floor, as is traditionally done in that country.

The dollhouses on the first floor of Kansas University’s Nunemaker Center were being decorated by 18 women from six countries: Morocco, Sudan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Egypt.

The women are all undergraduate students in their home countries and are at KU as part of the Heartland U.S. Institute on Women’s Leadership, a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

The dollhouses they were making this week are part of a fundraising effort for the Douglas County Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

The women in the leadership institute will contribute six dollhouses in all, joining 14 others that will be on display starting Saturday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Members of the public can vote for their favorite at the arts center and bid on them at a silent auction at the Douglas County CASA’s Playhouse Celebration from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 16 at the center.

That event will feature a dinner and live music from the band Thundercat. The winner of a large playhouse that has been on tour at several Lawrence locations will also be announced at the event. The winner will be randomly drawn from ticket entries that have been made during the tour and at the event.

Admission to that event is $40 per person online at or at the door on July 16.

The women in the KU leadership program have been learning some of a traditional women’s studies program and hearing presentations that focus on the process of leadership, said Mary Banwart, a KU communication studies professor.

The hope is that they can return to their home countries more engaged, empowered and able to inspire others around them, she said.

“This is just a life-changing experience,” Banwart said, both for the women and for the KU staff who work with them.

The women got involved with CASA after Andi Witczak, KU’s director of service learning who co-designed the leadership program, saw the opportunity to connect the two organizations.

Many of the students took the dollhouse project to heart.

“This house is like our country,” said Tahmina Kohastani, from Kabul, Afghanistan. “We felt like we were working on our country.”

As the women worked, they often slipped into a mish-mash of languages, everything from Arabic to Urdu, to accompany the English that united them.

“These women are just amazing,” said Diana Seely Frederick, executive director for Douglas County CASA, who gave a presentation to them. “They asked all kinds of questions. In some of the countries, they didn’t even have adoption.”

All proceeds from fundraisers support Douglas County CASA’s services for abused and neglected children.