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November 29, 2013

Orphans' work goes on sale in Roxbury

By Jessica Reynolds Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — Area residents will have the opportunity to admire and purchase toys and figurines made by Zimbabwean orphans tonight in Roxbury.

The Orphic Gallery will hold a reception and benefit from 5 to 7 p.m. in honor of Tinashe Basa, director of Zimkids Orphan Trust. The organization works to improve the lives of 200 orphans in Zimbabwe through the sale of the children’s homemade toys and dolls.

After seeing the harsh conditions in Zimbabwe, Dennis Gaboury, a Hobart resident and founder of Zimkids, became interested in the dolls and toys that the Zimbabwean orphans made from scraps and junk. He organized a toy-building competition with the children, which led to an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in London. Word spread to Gaboury’s friends and family in New York, and soon many people in the area were eager to get involved.

Gaboury said there were several local churches that gave financial support and helped raise awareness for the cause by providing a venue to feature the dolls.

“The birth of Zimkids actually happened in the Catskills,” Gaboury said. “They were the people who bought the first dolls. They were there from the beginning.”

Basa is 25 and runs Zimkids, which sells the orphans’ extra homemade toys and wire figures and uses 100 percent of the profit to better the children’s lives by providing food, school fees, clothing and medical supplies, as well as job training for the older children. The orphans, who make up the majority of Zimkids staff, are taught skills that help them become responsible and independent. The organization was recently able to build a greenhouse on site, where the children learn to grow their own vegetables.

With the help of a grant from the U.S. Embassy, Tinashe was able to visit the United States for the first time for a five-week fundraising tour across the country. Basa and Gaboury visited many schools and spoke about the work they are doing to improve children’s lives in Zimbabwe. Schoolchildren from New York to Alaska were treated to Skype video chats with the Zimkids in Zimbabwe.

The benefit tonight is the last stop on this tour. Gaboury will present a video and speak about what the trust does. The orphans’ hand-crafted toys will be available to buy.

“The bulk of our funding comes directly from the dolls that the kids make,” Gaboury said.

Gaboury said along with each doll that is purchased, a photograph and biography of the toymaker will be given. If anyone wants to donate cash, their donation will be matched 100 percent through Microsoft’s Youth Spark Program, Gaboury said. This allows donations received at the benefit to be doubled. Gaboury said people can also visit on Sunday to donate and have their donation matched.

Phillip Lenihan, owner of the Orphic Gallery, said he has known about Zimkids for some time and has always admired the work that they do. Meeting Basa, whom Gaboury describes as intelligent and self-disciplined, has further reinforced this feeling.

“I have received word from people in Texas, California and Canada that they are behind Zimkids’ efforts,” Lenihan said. “People should support the efforts of locals who are making a difference in the world.”