‘We cannot let this tragedy and violence be a stopping point’

BRATTLEBORO — We were horrified, along with all Vermonters, to learn of the shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington, Vermont.

As a refugee resettlement agency working to help those displaced by violence in their home countries start new lives here in the United States, this violence so close to home is jarring.

We condemn these horrific attacks and, as an agency, we commit to working with local, state, and national partners to continue our work to make Vermont a safe place for all.

"Often when we discuss our work, we talk about the immediate needs of clients when they first arrive in the United States," said Joe Wiah, our executive director. "However, our work goes far beyond that. Through our multicultural community centers in Bennington and Brattleboro, we are working with communities so that they can be places where people from many different cultures and backgrounds can feel at home."

In Bennington on Nov. 27, our office and Multicultural Community Center had a card available for staff, clients, volunteers, and community members to sign their names and messages of support to send to the three Palestinian students shot in Burlington. The Brattleboro Center will have a similar activity later this week.

"I got a call from a volunteer on Sunday night," said Jack Rossiter-Munley, community engagement manager with our Bennington office. "Like so many of us, he was searching for a way to take constructive action."

We just opened our permanent office here in Bennington, so I was thrilled that we could offer up our space and support his idea of sending a card with messages from Bennington.

However, ECDC in Southern Vermont is doing more than sending cards.

We cannot let this tragedy and violence be a stopping point. It cannot be the whole story. We cannot throw up our hands in despair. It's time to get to work. Brattleboro has a long history of welcoming international students and refugees and we will continue that work.

Wiah has been in touch with his counterpart at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the resettlement agency that works in Northern and Central Vermont as well as the Vermont State Refugee Coordinator's office. There has been outreach and contact with state legislators and Vermont's congressional delegation.

"We want the aftermath of this tragedy to be a time when people from throughout Vermont can come together and recommit to building a diverse state where everyone, regardless of their nationality, cultural background, sexual orientation, or gender identity, feels safe and supported," said Wiah. "ECDC here in Southern Vermont plans to take a leadership role in this important work."

Ethiopian Community Development Council

Ian Hefele, community engagement and communications manager

This letter to the editor was submitted to The Commons.

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