Afghan refugees mark a year in southern Vt.

The Brattleboro area stepped up to challenge of welcoming more than 100 evacuees from Afghanistan. What has happened since has been a success story, thanks to all who pitched in to help.

BRATTLEBORO — Nearly a year ago, community leaders gathered in the Cotton Mill for an event launching southern Vermont's efforts to welcome and resettle more than 100 evacuees from Afghanistan.

These evacuees fled their homeland in August 2021 with the collapse of the Kabul-based Afghan government and the subsequent takeover of the country by the Taliban. They eventually ended up in Vermont at the beginning of this year, with the campus of the SIT/World Learning in Brattleboro as their first stop.

Weeks of preparation by volunteers and community groups preceded the arrival of the Afghans. In all, more than 200 trained volunteers, 15 co-sponsorship groups, and 15 support teams took on the task, backed up by the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) and its Multicultural Community Center on Birge Street in the former Estey Organ complex.

Windham County's faith and civic groups leaped into action, collecting and distributing household goods donated by local residents for the new Afghan families to set up housekeeping in their new homes.

The Afghans who arrived in Brattleboro were teachers and craftspeople, nurses and lawyers, cooks and dressmakers, journalists and artists, families and single young people.

Soon, we were seeing new faces speaking a new language on the streets of Brattleboro. We learned about their hopes and dreams of a new future in the United States and learned about their culture and faith traditions. We learned about the talents they brought with them on the journey, and they learned about what a welcoming place Vermont could be.

Working with refugees is nothing new for Vermont. From the displaced peoples from a devastated Europe after World War II, to the South Asian “boat people” after the Vietnam War, to the people fleeing civil war and unrest in Africa over the past three decades, to the asylum seekers who are risking everything to get to the U.S. as they flee repressive governments and chaos in Central America, the Green Mountain State has done its share to welcome these people.

SIT/World Learning's long tradition of world-class English as a second language (ESL) training and the school's numerous alumni in Windham County made the campus a natural landing spot for the Afghan refugees. In addition to transitional housing, they created the New Vermonter Education Program.

The Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP), which has been working with refugees from Mexico and Central America, was also well positioned to help the effort, contributing help and legal expertise.

Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) has long sought New Americans to help fill the gaps in Windham County's economic development, and joined with SIT/World Learning and CASP to convince ECDC, the only refugee-run resettlement agency in the U.S., to open an office in Brattleboro.

BDCC has worked to help Afghans find employment in the area and, together with its partners, managed to find jobs and housing for all of the evacuees.

The Multicultural Center serves as a hub for the Afghans, as well as other refugees and asylum seekers from other nations. ESL classes are offered, as well as drivers' education classes, cultural orientation courses, and meetings with representatives from the Vermont Department of Labor.

The teamwork of everyone involved has paid off. According to ECDC, all the evacuees have found work and a place to live in southern Vermont within six months of their arrival here.

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