Tumaini Foundation collects donations for Tanzanian kids

By Vasanth Sridharan

If John Bambenek rang a bell for his charity, it would have to be the size of a small car. The containers he uses to collect are slightly bigger than the average bell ringer’s, coming in at a whopping 2,560 cubic feet.

Bambenek, University employee and former Daily Illini columnist, helps run the Tumaini Foundation, which sends those containers full of computers, clothes, toys, medical supplies and school supplies, among other things, to Tanzania to help school children and other people who can benefit from the supplies.

The Tumaini Foundation, which means hope in Swahili, was started a couple of years ago when Bambenek befriended two priests, Father Johndamaseni Zilimu and Father Fortunatus Bijura, who are from Tanzania. The organization was an outgrowth of Matthew House, a center in the C-U area that provided kids a place to go after school, Bambenek said. He said that Tumaini’s main focus is to help AIDS orphans and to give the Tanzanians “the tools to build their own society as they see fit.”

“A three year old computer to us is effectively worthless but to them it is essentially priceless,” Bambenek said.

The foundation sent a container on Nov. 17, its third shipment so far. Bambenek said that basically 100 percent of the money that is given to the foundation goes to shipping goods. He said that nobody in the organization is paid.

Bambenek said that the foundation gets computers and medical supplies donated from businesses like Carle hospital, but that most of everything else comes from private donations.

He said that science textbooks, shoes and kids toys are always in demand. People can donate those items or donate cash by following the instructions on the foundation’s Web site, http://www.thetumainifoundation.org.

The University’s Office of Volunteer Programs is also holding their annual toy drive, which benefits area children of all ages.

Sara Gibbs, student employee for OVP and junior in LAS, said that the goal this year is to collect 600 toys, a 75-toy increase from last year. The drive started on Nov. 13 and runs through Dec. 6. This year, Gibbs said that OVP is teaming up with Facilities and Services to help boost the total amount of toys collected.

Gibbs said that popular items include sporting goods, dolls, DVDs and other toys for pre-teens and teenagers, generally the most ignored group. The toys have to be new or in very good condition and can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in room 277 of the Illini Union.