On Miriam Gardsbane's 9th birthday two years ago, her aunt gave money to a group that cares for elephants. The woman, who lives in Kenya, told the group she was giving the money to celebrate Miriam's birthday.
Miriam and her mother then visited Africa to learn how that money was helping to support elephants. Miriam fell in love with the animals and wanted to help save them.
A few months after visiting Africa, Miriam watched "How I Became an Elephant," a documentary about the mistreatment of elephants in Thailand, and a young girl's campaign to save them.
Miriam decided she wanted to launch her own effort to raise money to save elephants.
She recently joined about 12 other students in an art center at the Friends School in Sandy Springs, Maryland. They made elephants from clay and decorated them.
"And you put things in it like a saddle or in people on it."
"The best part is just the different ways you can make ‘em and how far you can go with your creativity."
The children were spending part of their spring break -- a time when classes are not held -- to help Miriam Gardsbane raise money to save elephants. Last year, Miriam created a group she called They Deserve To Be Free after seeing a program that showed young elephants being abused in Thailand.
"We call it ‘crushing' because it's supposed to crush their soul. And what they do is they take a baby elephant; they put it, like, they strangle it with ropes, (and) they put it into this very small thing. They don't give it food or water for days and they beat it with nails and hooks and they're really mean to it. And it's just struggling, trying to get out. But they don't let it get out, and once it stops struggling that means its soul is crushed."
Miriam is working to make money for an activist who operates Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. The park is a sanctuary -- a place where elephants rescued from the tourism industry and illegal logging operations can live. She asked her friends to give money to the park rather than giving her birthday gifts. She made and sold baked goods, and made signs about elephant abuse. She also created a plan to make and sell clay elephants. She asked her art teacher to help her make the elephants.
Kate Santorineos opened her art studio to Miriam and her friends on weekends and during the school's Spring break so they could make the clay elephants. She even gave them the clay.
"To have a young student instead of going to the mall or shopping, but wanting to spend her time for another cause is what we all should aspire to."
Ms. Santorineos says the students are learning more than just how to make an elephant from clay. She says they are learning about elephants, Thailand and the ivory trade. And she says they are learning about clay and the technique.
Miriam says she is lucky because her mother and her art teacher support her. Arlene Gardsbane is a veterinarian, a doctor who cares for animals. She and Miriam traveled to Kenya and Thailand so they could see elephants. The two cared for rescued elephants for weeks. Dr. Gardsbane says her daughter is serious about helping the animals.
"She wants to make sure that, that she is educating people as to what is happening to other elephants both in the United States and in, in Thailand."
Dr. Gardsbane says what her daughter is doing is making her a little bit more mature. She says Miriam now knows a lot more about animals and what is happening to them.
Miriam says she is proud of her work, and happy she can help elephants. Recently, she and her friends began selling their clay elephants at a local farmers market. She says she has sold about 180 of them. Last year, she sold about $2,000 worth of them and sent all of that money to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.
I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.