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Yarmouth students connect with Sudanese peers

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Yarmouth students connect with Sudanese peers

YARMOUTH — As part of an effort to promote geographic literacy at Harrison Middle School, students in two seventh-grade classes are writing to students halfway across the globe. 

They are now in the second round of corresponding with Sudanese students at a Ugandan refugee school called Saint Bakhita Nursery and Primary School. 

On Tuesday, students in Paula Vicenzi's class were given responses to letters they wrote to those students as part of a presentation by Charles Roscoe, founder and president of the nonprofit Schools for Refugees, which helps fund the refugee school.

"(Harrison Middle School) has been extremely supportive, really embraced it, and it really has worked for both sides," said Roscoe, a Yarmouth resident, who returned from a trip to Uganda and Kenya last month. "We hope to keep it going fairly regularly."

Roscoe, along with Brunswick resident Bill Morrell, former vice president of Downeast Energy, shared photos with students in both classes, discussed their trip and the letters the students wrote.

"The English word they had trouble with was 'awesome,'" Roscoe said to the class. "Your family was awesome, your friends were awesome, your school was awesome, everything was awesome in your letters, so we had to explain what that meant."

The letters help the students not only connect with people in other countries, but also get them to think globally, Vicenzi said, noting that the entire school participated in writing letters last year.

The idea for Schools for Refugees grew out of a mentoring relationship between Roscoe and a Sudanese immigrant, Bosco Oringa, who spoke to the class Tuesday. 

Roscoe, a retired accountant, signed up for a mentoring program at Portland High School in 2005 and connected with Oringa, who had recently immigrated to the United States as a political refugee, after violence in the Uganda separated him from some of his family, including his mother.

Oringa was recently reconnected with his mother after not knowing what happened to her for years, although she still remains in Uganda while they continue a difficult immigration struggle to bring her to the United States.

Before immigrating, Oringa attended Saint Bakhita, which started out as a nursery school and has since grown to include education through sixth grade for more than 500 students with the help of Schools for Refugees.

Roscoe was Oringa's mentor through high school and saw him accepted to the University of New England as a Mitchell Scholar; he graduated last year with a pre-med degree. He is now a U.S. citizen and works at Maine Medical Center. He plans to apply for graduate or medical school in the near future, Oringa said.

"He's really almost become a member of our family," Roscoe said. "It was a great match. Many matches don't work and many kids don't have the sense of commitment he has."

Through their relationship, the pair, along Roscoe's wife and adult son, started the Schools for Refugees, which not only raises money, but also provides business advice to primary schools of refugee families in Africa.

"That school right now is helping a lot of students down there and helping a lot of refugees," Oringa said. "They are doing much better than when we started the Schools for Refugees program. I'm happy that the young students that are there are getting the help that they need."

Education for the refugees is not free in Uganda and few families can afford the cost of tuition, he said.

The entire school can be run for what is roughly the annual cost of one student's tuition at North Yarmouth Academy, about $20,000. One student's annual tuition at Saint Bakhita is just $175, Roscoe said.

Schools for Refugees hopes to expand their reach to help the students after primary school, on into the high school, Roscoe said.

Last year, students and their families at Harrison raised a $1,000 for Schools for Refugees, which helped them buy materials to build desks for their school building.

The next batch of letters from Uganda will be sent in the next few days, Roscoe said.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.