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Wharton global club hosts festival to ease suffering in Uganda

NEW TAMPA

The Roots for Peace Festival at Wharton High School will have cotton candy, live entertainment and an inflatable obstacle course.

But the "peace tree booth" at the center of tonight's event will highlight its serious mission.

There, visitors will learn more about the youth of northern Uganda, many of whom were orphaned by a decades-long civil war. Thousands were kidnapped by rebel armies and forced to join the fight.

Students will ask festivalgoers to write down their thoughts about the war and what the United States can do to support Uganda's young people. Their words will be tied to a makeshift tree made from pipes that students created to look like branches. The writings eventually will be shared with congressional leaders in an attempt to spur them to action.

The festival is the brainchild of Jamila Blake, a Wharton 11th-grader pursuing her Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization's highest achievement.

Two years ago, she saw a documentary produced by the nonprofit organization Invisible Children that highlighted the conflict in Uganda. The film's subjects hit close to home.

"I didn't think of children my age having to fight in a war like that," Blake, 16, said.

She decided to make her Gold Award service project raising awareness about these atrocities.

As Blake discussed her ideas with social studies teacher Elizabeth Glover, they came up with a way to get other students involved. They created a student club called Global Outreach.

For more than a year, members have worked on the Roots for Peace Festival, soliciting sponsorships and donations from businesses and marketing the community event. Blake, the club president, has overseen every detail.

The positive response from so many people has left her "a little bit awestruck," she said. "I wasn't sure that many people would be willing to give money to a cause they don't know much about."

After the festival, Blake will attempt to set up meetings with U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis. She will ask them to support the implementation of the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which calls for humanitarian aid, reconstruction projects and elimination of the resistance forces that fueled the war.

Blake's leadership, which has inspired other students to learn more about the issues and get involved, impressed Glover. While others just talk, she said, this teen actually put in the work and made it happen.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

>>fast facts

Roots for Peace Festival

The event to raise awareness of youth affected by the long civil war in northern Uganda takes place from 5 to 9 tonight on the track at Wharton High School, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. The festival features live entertainment, games and food sales. Admission is free.

Wharton global club hosts festival to ease suffering in Uganda 02/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:30am]
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