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Support for Refugees & Migrants
SIT and World Learning: A track record of experience and impact
World Learning, an international NGO, and School for International Training (SIT), its academic arm, have a long history of supporting refugees, migrants, and displaced persons. Our founding organization, the Experiment in International Living, was a pioneer in international education and service, sending Americans overseas to assist in the rebuilding of communities across western Europe, including in camps for war orphans.
The Experiment welcomed Hungarian refugees to our Vermont campus in the 1950s and later became a primary national training site for outbound Peace Corps volunteers. From 1976 to 1996, The Experiment and SIT were part of a consortium of organizations that delivered skills assessment, English language learning, and cultural orientation programs to more than 250,000 refugees in Southeast Asia in what was the largest refugee resettlement effort in U.S. history.
Since 2014, World Learning has been a key partner of the Ministry of Education in Lebanon through the USAID-funded QITABI project to support Lebanon’s public school system, including ensuring access to quality education for Syrian refugee children.
Today, with more than 103 million people displaced worldwide, SIT humanitarian assistance study abroad and graduate-level programs in Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, and other countries position undergraduate and graduate students to better understand and respond to these burgeoning migration crises.
Resettlement as a community priority
For 60 years, Brattleboro has been home to SIT, which draws students, trainers, and faculty from across the globe to southern Vermont and to our 40 learning centers abroad to study peace and conflict, development, humanitarian assistance, international education, language learning and other critical fields. Many who came to SIT in Vermont decided to stay in the area, contributing to this community’s global outlook and intercultural understanding. As such, Brattleboro has enthusiastically welcomed New Vermonters from outside the United States.
Refugee resettlement in the region also represents a key regional economic development strategy to address years of out-migration and an aging population that has left communities and businesses struggling. World Learning and SIT are part of the Working Communities Challenge, an effort led by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) and funded by the Boston Federal Reserve aimed at building a network that “ensures immigrants (and all workers) have what they need to live, thrive, and stay here.” We also receive strong support from the office of the Vermont State Refugee Coordinator and other partners.
We participate in this effort as a key local stakeholder and employer with a global mindset and relevant experience in education, intercultural understanding, organizational and community capacity building, workforce development, and more.
Welcoming New Vermonters
In January 2022, World Learning and SIT launched the New Vermonter Education Program (NVEP) in partnership with BDCC and the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), one of 10 refugee resettlement organizations designated by the U.S. government. Since that time, we have hosted more than 150 Afghan and other refugees on our Vermont campus, where we provide housing for up to three months until they are able to find more permanent accommodations.
During this critical time, NVEP creates an opportunity for new Vermonters to develop bonds with hundreds of community members who have eagerly stepped forward as co-sponsors through their churches, service clubs, and community organizations to help the refugees settle and integrate into the region.
In the initial phase of NVEP, SIT’s world-class TESOL faculty, emeriti, and alumni developed specialized English language curriculum and cultural orientation classes, which were first taught on campus. As refugees move to their new long-term homes throughout the community, classes now take place at a refugee community center in Brattleboro under the auspices of World Learning.
Since its inception, NVEP has enrolled and taught participants in core topics through a model of 16 hours of instruction a month, with attendees showing significant improvement over the course of their participation. At one stage, nearly half the participants in beginner English language classes were women who were non-literate in their native languages. Most have shown dramatic improvement in English language comprehension. In addition, other refugees have arrived from Guatemala, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Ukraine, and Yemen and had access to this program.
Together with our partners and community co-sponsors, SIT and World Learning are creating a holistic, wrap-around program linking language and skills learning directly to job training and professional opportunities. The NVEP classes in English and cultural orientation are empowering New Vermonters to develop critical language skills, successfully navigate cultural norms and processes, and engage with their neighbors. With ongoing support, refugees are filling some of the 10,000 open trade jobs, advancing local commerce, and directly countering elevated out-migration rates in Vermont. In turn, this is building a greater sense of community in southern Vermont and helping refugees feel fully welcomed, self-sufficient, and part of community.
Working in coalition
Through partnership, World Learning and SIT are committed to the long-term sustainability of this program in Vermont. In addition to engaging regularly in local coalitions in southern Vermont, we are also active participants in multiple national networks to share our experience and learn from others working in refugee resettlement across the United States.
World Learning and SIT are members of the Welcome.US Welcome Campus Network, a group of higher education institutions and allies that are directly providing some core refugee support services, working in partnership with resettlement agencies. From housing refugees to healthcare and directly enrolling students in academic programs, these higher education institutions are critical partners for welcoming newcomers into their communities.
Likewise, World Learning and SIT are part of the Refugee Housing Solutions National Housing Working Group. In that context, we have shared how we effectively leveraged campus facilities to provide temporary housing to new Vermonters upon their arrival in the region.
Template for a national model
Building on more than a year of direct refugee resettlement collaboration, in May 2023, World Learning announced the launch of an ambitious, three-year partnership funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), aimed at bringing U.S. colleges and universities more deeply into the refugee resettlement process.
Supporting Higher Education in Refugee Resettlement (SHERR) is a collaboration led by World Learning, in partnership with the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, Welcome.US, a national initiative to mobilize Americans to welcome those seeking refuge in the U.S., and ECDC‘s national office in Virginia.
The initiative seeks to build the capacity of higher education institutions to directly support refugee resettlement efforts and improve outcomes for new Americans, especially during their first 90 days in the United States.