They had come from across the world to learn here in the United States.
Part of that learning was caring for their fellow-man.
At the beginning of this semester, Santa Rosa Junior College welcomed students from different countries as part of the Community College Initiative program. These students will spend the next 10 months studying at SRJC, gaining new experiences in a new part of the world.
The CCI program requires students to get involved with their host community, partly to understand and interact with the people of a foreign land, and partly to help develop their leadership skills. To that end, the students volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse to aid victims of the Lake County Valley fire, which burned 119 square miles and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
After going through basic training and safety exercises, Samaritan’s Purse assigned the students to a woman named Melinda, who had been out of the country when the fire burned down her house and killed her relatives. Students helped her sort through the remains of her home to find anything salvageable, such as plates, coins or jewelry.
Of those international students, three of them – Davy Koffi, 23, from Ivory Beach in South Africa, Daniela Lopera, 18, from Colombia and Lillian Mustika, 30, from Indonesia – came forward to talk about their experiences.
Mustika recalled having mixed feelings when she first arrived on the scene. “I never experienced these things,” she said. “It never happened to me and I hope never happens to me.” Mustika broke down in tears when Melinda explained what had happened to her.
Koffi said he wasn’t surprised by what he found in the valley, as he had experienced fires and their aftermath before. What did surprise him, however, was how so many people came together to help the victims put their lives back together. “Back home,” he said, “we all think that people here don’t care about each other, they are not sociable. That’s was quite surprising to see that we are going to help someone face a bad situation.” It gratified him to find hospitality and sociability in the U.S., just like in his home country.
Lopera started crying when she first arrived at the scene of the Valley Fire. “For me, it was like; you are fine, maybe experiencing the most beautiful things in your life, and suddenly everything is taken from you,” she said. She did her best to put herself in the victims’ shoes, looking at the untouched houses just blocks away and wondering why the fire spared them.
“In a colonized world,” said Lopera, “We are always forgetting that we’re simple humans and individuals, so we need these kind of experiences to remember that we’ll always need others.”
Koffi recalled finding a small metal pin with the word “hope” among the ashes. It was an emotional moment for everyone.