Multicultural Community Center helps refugees transition to new lives

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 5:52 PM EDT
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - Afghan refugees continue to make their way to Vermont to start a new life. A new multicultural community center in Brattleboro is helping with that transition. And funding through Vermont’s Agency of Education is making sure the youngest arrivals are cared for, as well.

The multicultural center in Brattleboro is about much more than teaching refugees English. It is also about building community.

“It’s the one place for all the services that they might need,” said Eduardo Meléndez of the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

Learning the language is obviously important for any new arrival to the United States. But at this center, which is run by the Ethiopian Community Development Council or ECDC, refugees from Afghanistan are also learning how to live.

“Basic finances, how to open a bank account, how to use your debit card, paying bills on time,” Meléndez said.

For some, going home is not an option.

“I can not go back to Afghanistan,” said Fatima, an Afghan refugee. We agreed not to use Fatima’s last name. She is seeking asylum in the U.S. and revealing her identity could be dangerous.

“For journalists, especially for women journalists, the Afghanistan situation is not good to go back,” she explained.

Fatima is one of about 90 refugees who use the multicultural community center on a daily basis.

“They are very nice people and they help us a lot,” Fatima said.

That help extends to the kids as well, including child care. And part of a new $200,000 grant from the state’s Education Agency provides kids with summer programs and community mentoring.

“Arranging for them to go to museums or outdoor activities here in Vermont or even in New Hampshire,” Meléndez said.

“Teaching was my first passion and so when I heard about the Afghan refugees, I wanted to be involved,” said Gloria Cristelli, a teacher with the School for International Training, one of ECDC’s partners in the program.

Cristelli says it’s rewarding work, especially watching the Afghans interact which refugees from other countries. The center is open to everyone.

“They worked for us and they have a right to have a decent life,” Cristelli said.

Officials say the need for this type of center will only grow.

“We are going to be getting a lot of climate refugees, we are going to be getting a lot of political refugees,” Meléndez said.

ECDC is exploring other grant options through the Agency of Education to keep this program strong into the future.

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