front, Local News

Castleton steps up for West African student

By Katy Savage

Samuel Koroma came to Vermont last August hoping to escape hardships from back home, but the hardships seem to have followed him.

Koroma, 26, grew up in a rural area west of Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa. Just after his family dropped Koroma off at the airport so he could attend Castleton University,they were caught in a violent protest over rising fuel and food prices. Koroma’s uncle, who was paying for Koroma’s education, was severely beaten in the protests and hospitalized before he died from his injuries in October. 

Now, Koroma owes Castleton University about $8,000 and is at risk of being sent back home.  

“Covering the cost of tuition, books, and other expenses due to my situation has been a major challenge for me,” Koroma said. “As of right now I owe too much to be registered for the fall semester 2023 but I still hope to find another source of funding.”

Friends of Castleton International Students is trying to raise enough money so Koroma can stay through the next semester while many locals have rallied support. Rich Bryne bought him groceries, took him to get his haircut and gave him a bike so he could commute to campus. Laurie Welch Provin provided Koroma clothes while Sonya Saltis invited him to live in her home last semester so he wouldn’t have to pay room and board.

“The more I get to know him I can’t tell you how kind and how nice he is,” Saltis said.  

Saltis also took Koroma to the dentist — a new experience. 

“In Africa you only visit the dentist to get your tooth pulled,” Saltis said. 

Charlotte Gerstein, the librarian at Castleton, organized a GoFundMe for Koroma’s tuition and living expenses. So far, more than 100 people have donated $9,500 toward the $15,000 fundraising goal. 

“After the great effort and sacrifice of his family to get him here, leaving after one semester would be a waste, and also a waste of an opportunity for the CU community to get to know this young man with so much to teach us, including about opportunities we take for granted,” Gerstein wrote on the GoFundMe page. 

Coming to the United States has been an adjustment for Koroma. Back home, the minimum wage is the equivalent of $58 a month. Most people in West Africa live in poverty, lack access to electricity, clean water, good hygiene and proper nutrition. Sierra Leone is plagued with violence and civil unrest and the life expectancy is low. Koroma’s father is elderly and his mother is dead. 

“There are many things lacking in my country, like a poor educational system,” Koroma said. “And after you graduate from college, the chances of you getting a job are very little if you don’t have connections in government institutions and private businesses, and that is why many youths in my country are frustrated.” 

Koroma is one year away from earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Castleton. He ultimately hopes to bring his younger siblings to the United States.

 “I’m majoring in business management and taking courses in social work,” he said. “I wish to gain experience in management in a business in the U.S., and especially Vermont, and later to work in any U.S. Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), especially the charitable ones to help support people all over the world, or open a business to help in the socioeconomic development in my country.”

Koroma is applying for work visa so he can work two jobs on campus this summer to  earn money for his stay. 

“Castleton is a very nice community with very nice people,” Koroma said. “I really appreciate the opportunity given to me by the university to be here to further my studies and I appreciate all my professors, who have been very nice to me.”

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