Jhe The Ethiopian Community Development Council is the only U.S. community-based, refugee-led resettlement agency. At ECDC, we believe that refugee resettlement only works when the whole community is involved and when the refugees themselves are in the lead.
A year ago, none of us could have imagined that the emergency evacuation of Kabul would have brought us together as a community to welcome 100 new refugees to southern Vermont.
We can be extremely proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together. We created a new organization, a new school, a new community center, a new Islamic prayer space (the first in southern Vermont!).
After only a few months with us, our new Afghan neighbors are already contributing so much to our communities due to the extraordinary level of support and community engagement here.
Vermont refugees are more secure in their homes, finances and daily lives than those in almost any other state. All were able to quickly move into quality, affordable apartments within walking distance of downtown.
They’ve been busy improving their English and learning all about life in the United States, with month after month of classes led by world-class ESL teachers affiliated with SIT/World Learning and Vermont Adult Learning (VAL ) .
Most households now have at least one member working a decent full-time job, thanks in large part to the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC).
And, what is most important when you are new to a community is friendship. Our newcomers now know so many local people that they can call for fun, for problems, for anything!
Two hundred ECDC volunteers got involved as drivers, movers, buyers and babysitters. Sixteen co-sponsoring groups provide long-term support to all families with two or more children, who make up the majority of our newcomers here.
Everyone learns together, exchanges our cultures and enjoys new activities together. Nothing is impossible when a community comes together with love to welcome our new neighbors.
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Bbut many of us Learn all about these community efforts here. What we don’t see are the unsung heroes – those people who do the toughest jobs that most of us don’t have the time, patience or knowledge for. Those people we don’t see or recognize enough.
This year, ECDC received the 2022 Brattleboro’s Unsung Heroes Award from the Compassionate Brattleboro. The award was accepted by our case managers, Jessica and Nebras, due to their tireless work behind the scenes. They are available for all questions, for all emergencies, for all of us – not just for our newcomers, but also for all our staff and volunteers who are often new to resettlement.
Yet at ECDC we do this work because we believe that the real unsung heroes are the refugees themselves. Often, when working with immigrants, non-immigrants see themselves as “helpers” – helping vulnerable people in need. But our new neighbors are the ones who give the most of themselves to help us all.
Most of us can’t imagine the energy it takes to learn a new language, a new culture, and a new community, while fearing for your family and friends back home. Our new neighbors support each other to adjust to their new reality, to mourn their losses and to build friendship and trust together.
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Oe at ECDC is thrilled that our refugee leaders are stepping up to lead welcoming communities in southern Vermont. Shaima and Kamilla, a teacher and seamstress, worked with volunteers to feed everyone living at SIT. Amir and Ibrahim are project managers who match employers with new refugee employees.
Mustafa is a lawyer who helps everyone to apply for asylum. Maiwand is a police officer who now coordinates all of our donations and volunteers. Sohaila, a teacher and advocate for women’s education, organizes newcomers into teams working on art, sewing and food. All of them became interpreters, alongside Fatima, Orfan and several others.
Our new neighbors are helping their fellow refugees not only in Vermont, but also abroad. They provide family and friends back in Afghanistan with the money, food and hope they need to survive.
Immigrant diasporas do more good to help people escape hunger, persecution and misery than the limited funds available for official development assistance.
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LFinally, Vermont refugees help us all as a community. They are eager to work, share their skills and plan how to rebuild their careers here.
By my calculations, our 100 new Afghan neighbors include: 15 veteran soldiers; five artists and teachers; four lawyers; three IT specialists and journalists; two carpenters, drivers, mechanics, midwives, financial experts; and a baker, civil engineer, electrician, hairdresser, metallurgist, plumber, policeman and imam.
And last week, we all celebrated Nada, one of the award-winning Afghan Girls Robotics team members, who after just four months graduated from Brattleboro Union High School. with honors!
These are the leaders that Southern Vermont needs for its economy, its vitality and its future.
With World Refugee Day recently celebrated, we should all find our own ways to thank them for all their efforts and help as Brattleboro’s unsung heroes.
And we should encourage all new Vermonters to keep dreaming big – for themselves and for all of us in Vermont.