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Tumani club spreads hope

November 13, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hope as "desire with expectation of obtainment," yet when asked the nuance of the word emblazoned across their T-shirts, the student leaders of Tumani Ambassador Club at Greencastle-Antrim High School argued that hope is deeper than desire.

It is action, they said.

"When I think of hope, I think of being a light in the darkness," Caleb Lougheed said.

What started as an effort of a few students has grown exponentially, bursting the room of advisor Martina Fegan at the seams.

They call themselves Tumani Ambassadors. A local division of the O Ambassadors, a joint program of Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network and Feed The Children of Canada, the kids meet every Friday in Room 209 to work on creating, spreading, funding and understanding hope.

In Swahili, Tumani means hope, said Caleb, 16, co-leader of the group.

Just as Swahili was born in the heart of Africa, so was the heart of the organization that focuses on West Africa, a region adrift with poverty, war and ignorance, said Marni Baluta, 17, co-leader of the Tumani Ambassadors.

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"We're basically giving hope to kids in West Africa as well as to kids who take part in the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation," she said.

Three years ago, Fegan applied for Greencastle to become a chapter of Tumani, knowing that it could spark great interest among the students.

Now that the club has taken root, growing exponentially from 38 students in 2007 to 75 in 2009, the club has turned to its roots, as well as to Africa, to lend aid.

"We decided to devote 30 percent of what we raise here at home," Caleb said.

Last year, the kids raised $4,000, Fegan said. This year, it is well on its way to raising at least that much again, she said.

The Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, a local nonprofit established to make a positive difference in the lives of children and youth, is a local beneficiary of the club, along with the Greencastle Food Pantry and local homeless shelters. Most of the money raised, however, goes to Africa.

Change, even if it is a small change, that is hope, said Tamara Hade, 17, the club secretary.

A major focus of the organization is raising money to change the stigma of female education in West African culture, which has yet to fully embrace an educated feminine populous, Fegan said.

Many girls in West Africa are prevented from attending school because they lack money to buy the pencils and paper necessary to learn, said Akash Patel, 17, the club treasurer.

Providing these essentials helps children look forward to their day, he said.

"To me, to give hope is to, in a sense, eliminate or push back despair," said A.J. Yohn, 17, education committee chair for the group. "When children don't have school, they can go into one direction and that is into poverty, into despair. But with an education, they can move into success."

"Most of the world lives on $1 or $2 a day, so for us to be educating them by providing materials they need to be at school is giving them hope for the future beyond what their parents had," Caleb said.

"The main thing about hope, is that we need to reach out to our community and make them realize that these children in West Africa, they don't choose to live the way they do, it's just how it is," Marni said. "We are trying to help bring them out of that."

"We are trying to provide them with the opportunity to change their future," said Ashley Hutton, 18, food drive coordinator.

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