African connection has visitor seeking knowledge and donations for needy

7 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A relationship that spans across the ocean from northern Maine to Africa has brought a visitor to The County.

Community developer Scarion Rupia is visiting Aroostook from Tanzania and is working alongside Shirley Rush, a University of Maine at Presque Isle professor, to raise money for classroom equipment in Africa and to present at this year’s Maine Hunger Dialog conference.

At the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania sits the Moshi Secondary School where Rupia volunteers. Moshi is a residential school for young men. Around 60 of the 760 students who attend Moshi have special needs and about 40 of them have low to no vision. The computer lab designated for vision impaired students is in dire need of new computers and books printed in braille, Rupia said.

Rush taught in Tanzania as a volunteer professor in 2013 and again in 2016. Rupia was Rush’s student for two social work related courses during her time there and the pair kept in contact as Rupia finished a degree in community development at Stefano Moshi Memorial University College.

Rupia’s visit to Aroostook has a dual purpose: he’s here to raise money for a braille embosser and new computers, and he will present at UMPI’s agricultural conference Maine Hunger Dialog on Oct 21.

As an independent consultant in community development, Rupia also volunteers back home in agriculture related community activities and he is a volunteer coordinator for those students with visual impairments at Moshi.

As part of his visit to northern Maine, Rupia has gone to various farms in the area during harvest season where he learned through observing, he said. He’s also visited the local offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to learn about how they deal with community challenges. On his way up to Aroostook, he also made pit stops at the cooperative extension office in York County and at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s Common Ground Fair in Unity.

“So it’s up to me to learn and see what I can take back to my country,” he said.

UMPI has donated 10 laptops to Rupia. Once they arrive in Africa the laptops will be loaded with software that can read text to students.

“This will get them started,” Rush said. “But it’s not enough, they need more.”

Unemployment for youths in Tanzania is a serious problem, Rush said. And youth who have low or no vision have very limited opportunities.

“We know (this technology) will give people opportunities to carve their own path in terms of education and employment,” she said.

Rupia will leave Maine to head back to Africa on Oct. 22. Before he leaves, he’ll present at the 4th Annual Maine Hunger Dialog conference at the UMPI campus center on Oct. 20 and 21.

The conference is an opportunity for students to learn how to write grants and to perform assessments on their campus and in the community to identify the issues surrounding food insecurity, waste, community gardens and recycling, Rush said.

Rupia’s presentation will focus on sustainable agriculture in Tanzania. His message will be from the perspective of the farmer, he said.

Although Rupia’s visit in The County will be over later this month, his mission to raise funds for a braille embosser and other technology for Moshi will continue.

For more information on how to donate, contact Shirley Rush 768-9427.