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Thursday, February 14, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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African gift shop will donate Valentine's Day profits to survivors in a village ravaged by AIDS

Seattle Times business reporter

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Having lost most of her village and family to AIDS, Atieno Kombe says whatever she can pull together from her Seattle business is the least she can do for relief efforts in Africa.

"In America you are so busy, you don't have time to sit down and cry," Kombe said. "This is my way of grieving."

Kombe, owner of Uzuri International Gifts, is donating profits from today's Valentine's Day sales to help African children and women who have lost their families to AIDS.

A native of Kenya, Kombe, 43, immigrated to the U.S. in 1981. She started marketing African items by selling at Western Washington street fairs. In 1989, Kombe opened her Broadway Market store at 401 Broadway E. to bring a taste of Africa to Capitol Hill.

Uzuri is a Kiswahili word meaning "beauty," Kombe said. She culls most of the products for her store — masks, statues, clothing, rugs, jewelry — from the three or four trips she makes to Africa each year.

Profits from Uzuri's sales today will go to Urgent Africa, a charity Kombe co-founded in August 2000. In Kombe's Kenyan village of Majiwa, Urgent Africa helps pay for schooling and food for 47 children.

But the effort is small compared with what the village of 2,000 people needs, said Urgent Africa Executive Director Shana Greene. The group has identified 700 children who need support because their parents or family members have died of AIDS. In all of Africa, the United Nations estimates that 13 million children have been orphaned because of AIDS. Kenya has at least 500,000 such orphans.

On average, $1 a day can support a child's needs in Majiwa, Kombe said. Education is especially important for women because it keeps them from turning to prostitution and helps them contribute to the village's future, she said.

"That girl going to school will be able to give back and hopefully we'll have one less person who is (HIV) positive," she said.

More information about relief efforts through Urgent Africa can be found at www.urgentafrica.org.

Frank Vinluan can be reached at 206-464-2291 or fvinluan@seattletimes.com.

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