Doll hospital patches up spirits of young Brazilians

2020-12-25 12:05:12

Suelen da Silva, who lost her job in April at the start of Brazil's coronavirus outbreak, checks a doll at her "Doll Hospital" in her house in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro state, on Dec 10. [MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP] Editor's note: This news column showcases stories from around the world that bring a touch of positivity to the fight against the deadly coronavirus. NITER, Brazil-Wearing a traditional white coat and a surgical mask, "Doctor" Suelen da Silva uses a stethoscope to listen to her patient, a black doll she is healing at her home on a hillside near Rio de Janeiro. Da Silva does not have a medical degree, but the 62-year-old Brazilian has ingenuity and spark. After losing her job as a housekeeper in April at the start of Brazil's coronavirus outbreak, she has transformed her hobby into a way to earn some money during hard times. Da Silva is a small woman with a big personality. She has created her "lifelike" hospital for dolls in a poor area of Niteroi overlooking Guanabara Bay. If front-line healthcare workers are the superheroes of the fight against COVID-19, da Silva is perhaps a worthy sidekick, helping children endure the crisis by healing their ailing toys. The woman wears glasses with thick frames. She regularly updates her "clients" with pictures of their recovering dolls through WhatsApp and a medical chart. The patients at her hospital rest in tiny white beds illuminated with mini multicolored lights. "I give them updates day after day. The children act like parents whose babies are hospitalized," she said. "One day, a five-year-old girl was in tears as she left me her doll, and said, 'Make sure she doesn't suffer too much, don't give her too many needle jabs!'" she recalls. Perola is just one of the many dolls that have come in for "treatment", her legs bent at odd angles. She inserts a thin IV to her wrist with adhesive tape. Da Silva started fixing broken dolls when her daughters were little girls. The daughters are now aged 35 and 22. "I raised them as a single mother and I never had money to buy them dolls. So I repaired the ones I found in the trash," she said, adding she also donated refurbished toys to community groups. "But when I lost my job, this became my new job." Da Silva's eldest daughter Lydiane helped get the word out about the hospital via Facebook. "When she told me there had been more than 3,000 views, it scared me a little bit," she said. The unexpected job allowed da Silva to make ends meet, even if her income can be "very fluid". She charges hospital fees starting at five reais (about $1) for minor symptoms, meaning minor repairs, and up to 70 reais for dolls who are in "critical condition". "In a good week, I get about 20 of them" for stays of three to four days on average, she said. The dolls arrive in a variety of states such as twisted limbs, bald, and some are even decapitated. They are fixed, pampered a bit, cleaned up and sometimes given a new outfit made by da Silva herself. Secret formula She boasts of a secret formula-a mix of cleaning products-that she uses to wipe away pen marks often believed to be permanent. In a bucket at her home, several dolls are getting a bath to scrub away the unwanted marks. But like many hospitals in Brazil standing on precarious infrastructure, da Silva's clinic is at the mercy of Mother Nature. After a torrential rainfall the night before, she had to move her hospital from her patio, which was flooded, to a small space near her kitchen in her small red home. She dreams of one day opening a bigger hospital, which is already being built on land next door. For now, there is only a cornerstone and a pile of red bricks. She hopes it will eventually be a lovely spot with a huge window to admire the bay and the iconic view of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. "I pray to God that he will help me heal enough dolls so I can finish this construction project," she said, her eyes glistening with emotion. Agencies Via Xinhua