Zimbabwe comes to the Commons with Labor Day weekend fund-raiser

Who would have imagined any connection between a southern African country, where life expectancy is just 34 years, and the lush mountains of New York? But over the past three years, Hobart resident Dennis Gaboury has been building links between our community and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. He has accomplished this by founding ZimKids, a project that helps feed, clothe and educate Bulawayo’s orphans, encourages their creativity and teaches them about the dignity of work.
Over Labor Day Weekend the products of these children’s efforts will be on display and available for sale upstairs in The Commons Building on Main Street in Margaretville. Dennis Gaboury will be on hand during Saturday and Sunday afternoon and will be giving a talk on his work with the Zimbabwe orphans at 2:30 p.m. each day. Frank and Laini Manzo, owners of The Commons, have graciously donated the shop next to Longyear Gallery. It is their hope that the community will turn out in force to learn more about and support this worthy cause.
Neither Barbie nor The Transformers has much market share in Zimbabwe, where a schoolteacher would have to work for four months to afford the most minimalist of Mattel’s offerings. More than 85 percent of the adult population is unemployed, and 20 percent of the children are orphans. Yet even in such dire circumstances, kids will be kids. And Zimbabwe’s kids sort through the detritus of towns and cities for Vaseline jar caps and shoe polish lids, for pieces of wire, discarded buttons, scraps of cloth and bits of yarn that become their dolls, their cars, their fantasies.
Awed by their imagination and spirit, in 2005 Gaboury, a sculptor who’d moved to Bulawayo for part of the year, organized the first of what has become an annual competition among the city’s orphans. In the spring of 2006 their toys were displayed in an exhibition mounted at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. At a special awards ceremony all the toymakers received prizes – movie tickets and backpacks, books, beans and pencils, umbrellas and snacks – courtesy of local and international donors. The top four toymakers garnered something even more spectacular – an airplane ride over their own hometown donated by a local pilot.
Dennis couldn’t resist Zimbabwe and returned the following year. In the second competition the 80 top winners boarded an overnight train for a three-day adventure at Zimbabwe’s famed Victoria Falls. In 2008 the top group spent a week canoeing and hiking at a Salvation Army Camp designed to meet the unique needs of orphans. In the course of these three years, more than 1,500 boys and girls have participated.
The children gain more than their prizes and moment in the spotlight. Residents of the Catskills have been buying their toys, and the children receive those donations either as baskets of food sufficient to feed their families for a month, shoes, school uniforms, notebooks and pencils for school or the year’s school fees. For the first time in their lives, in a world where charity and handouts are the coin of the realm, they are catching an inkling of dignity. Funds from outright donations from local groups and churches fund additional needs, as well as the trips to Victoria Falls and camp.
This is how things work: Donors select the toys they want and receive not only the doll or car but a photograph and brief biography of the toymaker. Donors are then asked to write a brief message to the child on a special form provided by Dennis and attach a photo of themselves holding their selected toy.
The messages and photo are given to the orphans in Zimbabwe, who write thank you notes that Dennis mails back to the United States. Every penny donated for the toys is designated for the individual toymaker. All administrative costs are paid by Dennis.
For further information on the competition or to purchase dolls or wire toys, contact Dennis Gaboury at 607 326-3301 before October 30. Or try him at dennis@zimkids.com. Donations may also be sent to Dennis at 18 Roxbury Mountain Road, Hobart, NY 13788.