Miriam Gardsbane sold the clay elephants she and her classmates made at the farmers market. (Family photo)

Miriam Gardsbane spent a recent Sunday at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Maryland. But the 11-year-old wasn’t shopping. She was selling colorful clay elephants that she and her friends made. And instead of filling her piggy bank, the money she earned will help save abused Asian elephants in Thailand.

“Elephants need help,” Miriam said after her day at the market. “They’re suffering, and a lot of people don’t realize what’s going on.”

Two years ago, Miriam’s aunt fostered an orphaned African elephant as a birthday gift for Miriam. The Rockville girl and her mom later visited the elephant, 1-year old Naipoki, at the rescue organization (www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org) in Kenya.

“My mom and I fell in love with helping elephants,” Miriam said. “I have always thought they were really cool creatures.”

In early 2014, Miriam watched a documentary about the abuse of captive Asian elephants in Thailand. She learned about how people abuse elephants with whips and sticks called “bullhooks” to force them to perform in circuses and other tourist attractions.

Miriam Gardsbane, left, was inspired to act after learning how people mistreated elephants throughout the world. (Family photo)

“I could see how unhappy the elephants were,” Miriam said. “They had nothing to do, and they were chained. It made me really sad. I needed to do something.”

Miriam came up with the idea of sculpting clay elephants that could be sold at a fundraising event. After talking with the head of her school, Sandy Spring Friends School, Miriam and her mom bought supplies. Then the girl invited classmates and their families, as well as her teachers, to help. In June they got busy making more than 70 clay elephants.

Miriam’s art teacher, Kate Santorineos, showed the group how to shape the elephants. Soon a whole herd came to life — big elephants, small elephants, some swinging their trunks, a mother and baby snuggling and even a few with birds perched on their heads. On another weekend, the group met to glaze the elephants in a rainbow of colors. Miriam’s favorite elephant color? Fudge marble — brown with white “freckles,” she says.

She made posters, and on June 15 set the colorful herd out on a table for sale at the farmers market.

“We sold most of them,” said Miriam, who will donate the $1,137 she earned to Elephant Nature Park (www.elephantnaturepark.org) in Thailand, a sanctuary for abused Asian elephants. She calls her project “They Deserve to Be Free” and hopes to make it an annual event.

“It was fun educating people about the cause, especially the kids,” Miriam said. “When they heard about what happens to elephants, I saw their faces and that said to me that they wanted to do something about it, too.”

— Kitson Jazynka