Surprised and "a bit overwhelmed," University of Pennsylvania junior Tariro Mupombwa said yesterday she was stunned by the flood of 120 calls and e-mails supporting her plan to fashion a brighter future for her native Zimbabwe using sewing machines.

An article Tuesday in The Inquirer described Mupombwa's proposal to collect donated sewing machines in America and export them to Zimbabwe to start a nonprofit business making school uniforms at a home for the elderly.

Since then, the soft-spoken woman with the microbraids has been inundated by offers of used and new machines.

"I didn't really expect such a positive response," said the 21-year-old, gratified that so many strangers seemed aware of her homeland's problems and had reached out to help.

The country, already infamous for its dictatorial leader, Robert Mugabe, has been reeling since the summer from a cholera epidemic and hyperinflation.

Mupombwa's plan is to train the residents of a home for the elderly as tailors. Then, in a self-sustaining nonprofit business, they will turn out the white shirts, pleated skirts, khaki pants, and blazers worn by 3,000 pupils at a half-dozen Salvation Army-affiliated schools.

To handle the outpouring of interest in her project, Mupombwa recruited seven classmates, including three Zimbabweans, who are helping respond to the calls and e-mails.

She changed the password on her e-mail account, giving them access, so they can all pitch in.

"I've been telling them, 'I owe you one,' " Mupombwa said.

She plans to begin picking up some machines Sunday and will store them in the basement of a professor's home.

Asked what advice she might have for other young adults with a dream, she said: "If you have an idea, don't think it's crazy. Talk to people - and you will find people to help."

Sewing a Future

For more information

on how to donate, contact Tariro Mupombwa at tarirom@gmail.com or at 215-417-8679.

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Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.