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How volunteers are helping dozens of Afghans settle in Vermont

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 5:40 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2021 at 7:49 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - The world watched as thousands of Afghans tried desperately to flee the Taliban. Now, more than 100 of those refugees are making their way to Vermont.

The Vermont chapter of the Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which used to be called the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, is welcoming a couple of dozen Afghans to the state. By the end of the year, they will have brought 130 Afghans here.

None of this is possible without the help of volunteers. I met one family who opened their home to an Afghan refugee over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Coming here knowing nobody in an overnight flight and exhausted, and yet they know they’re the lucky ones,” said Bill Marks of Hinesburg.

Marks and his family opened their home last week to a man from Afghanistan.

“They would do anything they could do to be productive Americans and I haven’t run into anybody like this in-- I don’t know how many years,” Marks said.

Bill and his wife, Deborah Goudreau, say the young man arrived from a military base in New Mexico where he was sharing a tent with 200 people.

“Our guest left behind a wife and-- not sure if it was 7-month or 7-year-old-- child in Kabul, and all they had was one bag of all their possessions,” Goudreau said.

The family spent Thanksgiving with the refugee and invited two of his Afghan friends over for the holiday.

Marks’ daughter Julie hosted the holiday meal.

“We did get to talk on the phone with a lot of their relatives as they were calling to check in on family members. I probably gave my phone number to seven different people,” said Julie Marks of Jericho.

After three nights with the Marks, the Afghan moved into an Airbnb for 10 nights with his two refugee friends, staying together to ease their transition.

Right now, the Vermont chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants says the biggest challenge is finding permanent housing for these folks.

“This is not news to anyone-- we are experiencing, as a state, a housing crisis. So finding especially large units, three- and four-unit apartments, is really challenging,” said Amila Merdzanovic, the director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Vermont.

Ben Carson is a longtime volunteer for the committee and is helping the resettlement effort by using social media to spread the word.

“I saw some anguish and some trauma and some sadness from some of these refugees, and I think there’s places we can step up and do more,” Carson said.

He notes these folks are moving around from place to place with few belongings and any help is appreciated.

“We need constant volunteers to step up so when they get off the plane, they’re not retraumatized by moving around,” Carson said.

If you want to help, the refugee center says it could use hot meals, clothes and car seats to name a few. They are also looking for volunteers to give these people rides or provide temporary housing.

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