Community celebrates one year of refugee resettlement

November 1st, 2022   |   School for International Training

A woman smiles at the camera. She wears glasses, a long beige headscarf and a blue dress. She is holding a paper.
Photos by Eduardo Melendez/Courtesy of ECDC Multicultural Community Center

More than 300 friends and supporters gathered with new Vermonters from Afghanistan and several other countries on Oct. 17 at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to celebrate a year of refugee resettlement in southern Vermont.

The event was coordinated by the local office of the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), a national refugee resettlement organization that opened the Multicultural Community Center in Brattleboro in October 2021. Less than three months later, in January 2022, ECDC and partner organizations World Learning/School for International Training and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), began welcoming refugees to the SIT campus, where they had up to three months of housing while taking English and cultural orientation classes.

Dr. Tsehaye Teferra, president and CEO of ECDC, called the joint effort "a new opportunity and an ideal partnership. ... I hope this kind of collaboration will continue and serve as a role model in other cities."

Since January, more than 100 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan, have migrated to southern Vermont thanks in large part to a massive volunteer effort coordinated by ECDC with local churches and community organizations and more than 200 individuals.

Local partners include St. Michaels’ Interfaith Refugee Ministry, the Rotary Club, the Beloved Community Group, Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, UCC Group, the Spanish-Speaking Group, Rockingham Group, Deerfield Valley New Neighbors Project, as well as smaller support teams for the ArtLords, the Sewing Team, and half-a-dozen other refugee households.

Thanks to this broad community and organizational support, most of the refugees have found long-term housing and jobs, and enrolled in school and classes as they settle in to their new community.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for cross-cultural engagement, which is really what SIT and World Learning are all about," said Tim Rivera, World Learning senior advisor for innovation and strategy. "While so many of our new Afghan neighbors are busy learning our language, the English language, our culture, it’s a useful reminder that it is also incumbent on all of us to learn from our neighbors about their history, their culture, their experience.”

The October event included a festive afternoon of demonstrations, displays, food, and remarks, with the strength of community bonds and friendship on full display.

A woman with dark hair wearing a blue patterned headscarf and blue dress.

Kamila is among several refugees who announced plans to open a local food business.

People gather around a long table filled with Afghan food.

Guests enjoyed a variety of Afghan dishes prepared by the Afghan chefs.

Four young people holding paint and paintbrushes, pose in front of a painting of a U.S. map with Afghan images.

From left, Abdullah, Meetra, Negina and Zuhra, four of the five members of the ArtLords currently living in Brattleboro, work on a painting representing Afghans in the United States.

A man at a podium holding a microphone,

SIT Graduate alum Joe Wiah, director of ECDC's Multicultural Community Center, said he was proud of how Vermont has supported refugees. "We have provided a friendly, supportive environment with our welcoming, small-town approach. It is our experience that newcomers have benefited from more generous and responsive services in Vermont than in most U.S. states."

A man with a beard smiles as he chats with a woman right brown hair.

World Learning's Tim Rivera (left) talks with SIT staff member Cynthia Rebelo, one of the community members co-sponsoring a family from Guatemala.

Two people look at artwork hanging on a wall,

Community members enjoyed exhibits of artwork, clothing, robotics, and toys created by new Vermonters.

A man smiles as he speaks into a microphone at a podium. He has gray hair and a gray beard and wears a suit.

Dr. Teferra said the collaboration between ECDC and World Learning/SIT "is a new opportunity and an ideal partnership. ... I hope this kind of collaboration will continue and serve as a role model in other cities."