High hopes for change

Woman to further her education in Africa

Woman to further her education in Africa

April 21, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Pamela Scorza's story begins in a tiny village near Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where she caught her first glimpse of social inequality.

It continues in the homeless shelters of New York City, where she realized that inequality was a global pandemic.

It will end, perhaps, in Ghana, where she hopes to do something about it.

"What do I want people to know about me?" said Scorza, 23, of Shepherdstown, W. Va. "That I'm excited and hopeful about our generation's effect on the world."

Scorza will leave this summer for the University of Ghana in Africa to pursue a master's degree in public health. Helping to pay her costs will be a $26,000 scholarship she received last summer from Rotary District 7350, said Jack Murray, Rotary district governor. The district includes 45 Rotary clubs in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, including clubs in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia.


A Shepherdstown native, Scorza earned an anthropology degree from New York University in 2005. During her junior year, she spent a semester in Ecuador.

She volunteered at a school near Quito, where smiling little boys and girls scurried across the dusty school yard, fenced only by a vast tropical forest.

On weekends, she hiked through forests of orchids and clouds in El Pahuma and played in the waterfalls at San Pablo Lake.

There were also occasional ventures to the market at Otualo.

"Driving through the countryside, seeing people living in shacks, without all the amenities that we have ... " Scorza said. "It was shocking at first."

Scorza's father, Ralph, came to visit at Christmastime. They spent their holiday in Sarayacu, where the Quichua Indians lived.

They slept in the head shaman's hut, made of wood and thatched palm, and ate the fruits of some of the best hunting in the rainforest, Scorza said.

The Quichua also managed to keep oil companies off their land, which was thought to have large amounts of untapped oil, she said.

Scorza was so fascinated by the Quichua that when she returned to the United States, she volunteered for a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the United Nations.

The organization, the Urban Justice Center, was building a lawsuit against New York City for wrongfully denying people emergency food stamps.

As a volunteer, Scorza went to homeless shelters in search of people who were denied. The experience, Scorza said, heightened her interest in social inequality.

"The world is so connected," Scorza said. "There really is a global culture that has really just emerged."

Through her parents, Scorza had always been a student of the human condition.

Her father is a researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and had been to Brazil, China and several other countries during a stint with the Peace Corps.

Her mother, Marsha Scorza, is a Washington County Public Schools counselor and therapist in group homes.

With graduation approaching at NYU, Scorza decided to fulfill the rest of her degree requirements in Ghana. She volunteered for the West African AIDS Fund.

There, she met a teenager named Edigrant Peprah. Doctors and nurses believed Edigrant was about 15.

A tumor had consumed Edigrant's left eye and most of the left side of his head. He also had AIDS. Scorza said the hard part was knowing that there was nothing they could do for him except try to make him more comfortable until he died.

Edigrant died a month after Scorza graduated from NYU.

Still, there was hope in Africa.

A group of school children known as the Passion Squad went to schools and villages teaching people about AIDS and safe sex. The teens organized an AIDS walk last spring, marching through the streets of Accra, the nation's capital.

The experience taught Scorza to see health as a human right, she said. It was after graduation in May 2005 that Scorza decided to pursue public health.

"It's an act of violence if a power structure allows people to suffer from treatable problems," Scorza said.

While she is unsure what she'll be doing in the next 10 years, Scorza said she was sure of one thing.

"I'm going to follow what's most meaningful," she said. "Helping those who need it most."

To apply for a 2007 Rotary scholarship...

Rotary District 7350 will offer a $26,000 scholarship for 2007. Applications are available from any Rotary Club in the district. The deadline to apply is July 1.

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