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When scholarships don't cover dental, community members step up

'I’m sure that this will in turn build a ripple effect'
Posted at 11:01 AM, Jul 16, 2021

CINCINNATI — When Zedekia Samara walks across campus at the University of Cincinnati, it's more than a whole new world, it's a dream come true.

“My dream has always been to study abroad because I love traveling," he said. "I love learning about new things."

His arrival at UC earlier this year satisfied that dream. Originally from the small Tanzanian village of Shiratie, he was one of two recipients of this year's UC Global Opportunity Scholarship.

The scholarship is awarded every four years to two international students. Samara was already familiar with UC because of his work as a translator for a Cincinnati-based non-profit, Village Life Outreach Project. That connection led to his arrival on campus earlier this year.

Unfortunately, the scholarship doesn't cover something else he really needed: dental care.

"Sometimes the pain was unbearable, especially when I was like chewing stuff,” he said.

Samara reached out to a number of people, including the founder of Village Life Outreach Project, Dr. Christopher Lewis. He is also UC's vice provost of academic programs.

“It was typical Village Life fashion, in that we were able to identify people in the community to help out,” said Lewis, who is also friends with Dr. Terrence S. Poole, a long-time Cincinnati dentist.

"This dental situation was one of those situations where someone stepped up; they didn’t have to," Lewis said. "But Dr. Poole gave his own time and resources to pitch in and helped out."

"I said, ‘Well, don’t worry about working out payment. Why don’t we just take care of them?’” Poole said.

He didn't charge for the dental work.

“Dentistry still is a very philanthropic endeavor and profession," Poole said. "So, we still tend to do a lot of philanthropic efforts. Some under the radar on their own.”

Samara's pain was caused by cavities. Poole said if it had been left untreated, he could have lost two teeth.

“I was just very thankful to Dr. Poole for it,” Samara said. “When we got there, I thought we were going to pay for it. But, when we got there and everything was done, we were told that we don’t have to worry about it.”

However, he still needs additional work done by an oral surgeon to pull his wisdom teeth. The "village" that has developed around him is working on finding someone to perform that work, as well.

It will be one more example of the friendliness Samara has experienced since arriving in Cincinnati.

“The people that I’ve met here have been so friendly; they have been so, so helpful,” he said. “The spirit that this entire process is building in me is more than what I expected it would.”

Lewis said Village Life Outreach Project has been taking volunteers from UC to Tanzania to work on water, healthcare and education projects since 2003. In that time, he said, about 700 UC students and faculty members have gone to Tanzania. But this is the first time the group has worked to help a Tanzanian come to Cincinnati.

“We knew [Samara], and we knew how bright he was," said Lewis. "We knew how determined he was. And so, when it came time to work with the community to select students that would come to the University of Cincinnati, he was just a natural fit.”

“Village Life here in Cincinnati, as well as some other partners on the ground in Tanzania, were great partners," said Dr. Jon Weller, director of international enrollment at UC. "They really helped us identify a pool of students, vet the students. They participated in interview process and selection process with us.”

Timothy Akama, who also lives in the same village and worked at a Village Life Outreach Project facility, was selected with Samara for the scholarship program.

Samara is studying information technology, taking summer classes and working on campus. He plans to find a way to merge his studies with his passion for healthcare. He knows he wants to take what he learns here back to help villagers in Tanzania.

He said he also wants to be able to help others the way so many Cincinnatians have helped him since his arrival.

“The spirit that this entire process is building in me is more than what I expected it would,” he said. “I’m sure that this will in turn build a ripple effect where the things that have been done for me are the things that I probably will be doing to others.”

“Zed’s presence on our campus is going to enrich the Cincinnati students, as well," Lewis said.