CHAMPAIGN — You don't have to look far in Champaign-Urbana to find schools and health care, but John Bambenek can tell you about the scarcity of medical care and what a hardship it is for many kids to get an education in areas of Africa.
As the founder and unpaid administrator of the Tumaini Foundation, Bambenek is on a mission to raise $100,000 to improve the quality of life for kids and families in Tanzania and Ivory Coast.
More than half the money he's trying to raise, $60,000, is to expand St. Mary Philipo's elementary school in northwest Tanzania to serve 100 more children in kindergarten through fifth grades, he said. Most of the rest would be used to ship two containers of medical supplies to a small, free outpatient clinic serving people in Ivory Coast.
The president and chief executive of an information technology consulting firm and a 2012 state Senate candidate, Bambenek started the Champaign-based foundation about a decade ago at the request of a priest friend, Rev. Fortunatus Bijura, who came to the University of Illinois from Tanzania and wanted help shipping containers of supplies back there.
"I thought, it can't be that difficult to send shipping containers to Tanzania," Bambenek recalled.
He soon learned it was more complicated than he thought, but over the years the foundation has managed to ship six containers of medical and educational supplies, plus one donated car. It's also built a dormitory for a school in Tanzania, Bambenek said.
The new fund-raising effort would help ease burdens for people in these two areas of Africa by helping supply services people in the U.S. take for granted, Bambenek said.
For many kids in Tanzania, the schools are so far away they can only get an education by boarding at the school or going to live with relatives who live closer to schools, he said. Poverty and diseases, some of them treatable, plague families in N'gattadoloukro, Ivory Coast, where medical care is limited. The medical supplies would go to the small clinic in the village to help serve more families.
With fund-raising just getting started, Bambenek said the foundation is about $3,000 toward its $100,0000 goal.
He hopes to see the school project break ground by this summer, when he also hopes to make his first trip to Africa to be on hand when shipping containers of supplies arrive, he said.
A father of four who wants to pass along the importance of helping others to his kids, Bambenek said the work of the foundation wasn't something he went looking for. "For lack of something more precise, it was something that came and found me," he said.