Yellowknife is now home to the founder and owner of an online shop that sells a diverse selection of dolls that embody numerous cultures around the world.
Andile Pfupa, who started Bee You Kids, says she wants to help children find the dolls that can represent them and make them feel included.
There are also dolls symbolizing people with disabilities — some of the the toys feature hearing-aids while others are in wheelchairs. Pfupa said these dolls will help young people understand and be more accepting of those who have disabilities.
Her online venture, which also sells toys and books, started when she was looking for a doll for her niece. She realized that it was difficult to find ones that exemplify diversity.
“I looked at the shelf and saw that there are no Asian dolls, no Indian dolls and even First Nations dolls aren’t there,” Pfupa said. “It didn’t fit right with me that Canadian parents are not able to find the toys that can represent themselves. We are such a diverse country, and we all push diversity as one of the beauties as a Canadian, but our shelves are missing diversity in toys and that don’t make sense to me.”
An early childhood educator, Pfupa arrived in Yellowknife from Edmonton before Christmas, with her family in tow, to look for more opportunities, and she feels that she’s needed here.
“In terms of the school system, I’ve been needed as a teacher,” she said. “To be truthful, I came here for the money at the very beginning and right now, I feel there is more of a purpose.”
As this is a fairly new concept, a lot of the dolls were made in small numbers and the cost of materials are higher than most Caucasian-themed dolls. Also, they’re imported from other countries, which comes with shipping fees and drives up the cost.
“Last year I was trying to get my dolls into Royal Alexandra Hospital in Alberta, and the issues that the hospital were having is my dolls are too expensive for them, and the margin for their dolls were usually $30 maximum, but mine goes up to $70,” said Pfupa.
She’s now calling on the Canadian government to not just talk about diversity and inclusivity, but to start creating a diverse society where all Canadian have access to toys that look just like them.
“The government must urgently consider providing subsidies to institutions such as daycares, schools, non-profit organizations and hospitals to stimulate demand and create greater appreciation for these toys,” she said.
Pfupa, who is of Zimbabwean descent, believes that the toys are part of a larger conversation to teach self-love and the beauty of differences in human bodies, so that young people are not feeling “othered” by what some perceive as “the norm.”